Andrea Alstrup Talks Tylenol, Family Fare and the Ad Future

The Former J&J Marketer Says the Business Has a Bit of an Identity Crisis

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I almost got a scoop when I interviewed Andrea Alstrup, recently retired VP-advertising at Johnson & Johnson, newly inducted to the Advertising Hall of Fame.
Watch the eight-minute video interview with Andrea Alstrup.

We were talking about the Family Friendly Programming Forum, the group formed to encourage family-friendly TV shows. "Working together with Bob Wehling, my cohort at Procter & Gamble, the two of us really took the lead and had 40 other advertisers agreeing that it certainly makes sense to take another look at television programming and to convince the media that it was important," Andrea told me.

I asked her whether the forum idea is translatable across platforms, and that's when my near-scoop came in. "Actually, that has been a goal of the forum for the past several years, and we are in the midst of revisiting exactly how we want to describe how that should be. I can tell you that you will be hearing much more news about that in the near future."

How that would work I can't even guess, because the family-friendly shows were aimed at the early prime-time; on other platforms you can call up shows anytime you want them.

Andrea contends that it's still relevant "to find some places where families can turn on the TV or have the program on their computers or on a DVD or wherever they would like to have it. But if you don't produce these, you never have the opportunity to see them."

As you might imagine, the Tylenol "incident," as Andrea puts it, looms very large in her memory. She was with her predecessor, Pete Tyrell, driving to New York. By the time they arrived, they had received calls from all three of the major networks saying that they would withdraw all Tylenol ads immediately. "We didn't even have to call them and say 'Could you do this?' Today, something like that would be next to impossible, except of course you would have the immediacy of the internet."

She said J&J Chairman Jim Burke "put together a very, very small group of people, and they just immediately organized to take the product off the shelves and then determine what the next steps were to be. Everyone rallied."

She added that "we did a lot of searching and a lot of research. In fact, the new product, the Tylenol gel cap, was invented to prevent tampering with capsules. We never sold another capsule after that." She also noted that many safety devices are now on consumer packaging as a result.

I wanted to get Andrea's take on how the ad business has changed -- and not changed. "I don't think you can ever have a successful ad business without having really strong relationships and strong understanding of what your goals are. Do the research, have real, true partnerships. Nobody can do anything alone. I don't care if they tell you that they can. I believe it is impossible."

Another ingredient is mutual respect. "You never hire an agency to work for you. You always want to work with an agency, and you want them to work with you."

Are agencies still custodians of their brands, as they were not so many years ago? "That has changed. You really want your agency to feel ownership of that brand and that product as much as it is yours. When you find that magic, then you can really develop what you need to do and get the consumer to feel the same way."

Andrea and her staff always handled agency searches themselves "so that the people who were going to work on the business talked with the agencies. It wasn't a third party that did the hiring and firing."

The biggest problem facing the ad industry today, she told me, is "they don't even know what to call themselves. Is it marketing? Is it advertising? What is the new word for it? The world has changed so drastically ... but yet we still want to go back to some of those core values and some of the core important things that advertising can bring."

Andrea is the 10th woman (out of 170) to be inducted into the hall of fame. "Should I be proud of that, or should I be the 100th woman? I don't know."
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