Over-the-counter loyalty: Tylenol vs. Advil

By Mariam Shahab

Just because I’m not a mother running around all day after my kids or a hardworking executive of a high-profile company does not mean I don’t get headaches. Or backaches. Or cramps.

I do. And so does the rest of my generation.

But Tylenol and Advil advertising campaigns don’t seem to think so. But before the these-brands-don’t-cater-to-Gen Y bashing, let’s back up.

With doctors for parents, I’ve always grown up with drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, easily accessible. My parents sent me with a mini-pharmacy in my suitcase to college and instructed me specifically not to offer any drugs to others. This apparently was not a way to make friends (but sharing Gummy Vites sure was). One of the key lessons I learned from my doctor parents was that generic drugs are as good as the brand names. It was drilled into my memory: Tylenol is acetaminophen. Advil is ibuprofen.

Technically speaking, it’s difficult to compare Tylenol to Advil because they are two different drugs. Simply speaking, they both relieve pain. Acetaminophen is primarily used to relieve pain from headaches, muscle aches, backaches and reduce fever; while ibuprofen is primarily used to relieve pain from tenderness and swelling. Tylenol and Advil are like the Target and Walmart of over-the-counter drugs. While one isn’t perceived as a higher quality than the other per se, they both get the job done in different ways. Oh, and needless to say, one has a red logo and the other has a blue logo.

In a February AdWeek article, Tylenol is listed as the sixth-highest brand to trust on the TrustR (trust/recommendation) score sheet from Brandz, a global study of consumer brand equity. However, with the recent Tylenol recall (2010 should be known as the year of the recall), the medicine’s brand perception has declined. Creating a deeper branding hole for itself, Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol’s parent company) was also caught pulling advertising before announcing the recall. Explained in a Brandweek article, “The big recall that resulted in factory shut down occurred April 30, but J&J had almost all its Tylenol ads off the air by the end of March.” According to Neilsen data, Tylenol had 3,333 cable TV spots in February, followed by 546 in March and a measly 64 in April.

To counter, clarify and make leverage of the Tylenol situation, Advil has posted front and center on its website “Advil is NOT part of the recent pain reliever recall.” Information on a subpage continues, “For more than 25 years, millions of people have trusted Advil for safe and effective relief of their aches and pains.” When comparing over-the-counter drug brands, Advil is listed as the most trusted pain reliever for the price in a July Brandweek article with survey data from Brand Keys. The article points out “Consumers also ranked [Advil] higher among the other factors that drive their purchase decisions namely strong relief, safe to use and good for the whole family.”

Last month’s MediaPost blog entry entitled “Boomer Brands Take Notice” calls Tylenol and Advil both to take action and start marketing to Gen Y. While there are agreeably many restrictions and sensitivities around healthcare advertising and social media integration, I’d love to see either brand take the challenge to channel their loyal pill poppers.

While neither brand has an official Twitter or Facebook fan page, there are some fun brand-based derivatives. A recently created Advil Facebook fan page has gained nearly 9,000 fans, but updates with statuses like “I take pain from the ass” and “I’m going to take Advil, just for fun,” which leads me to believe it is not an officially sanctioned venture. Other than the Tylenol Scholarship Program Facebook fan page with over 21,000 fans, the next most popular Tylenol fan page is the (not so) cleverly named “Your Love is My Drug..Lol Jk Tylenol Is My Drug!,” which has around 2,200 fans.

But as a plus one for Tylenol, the company successfully launched a “TYLENOL® PM Sleep Trackerfree iPhone app last year as a part of their “Get ready for bed” campaign. The app is centered around the tagline “See how beneficial a good night’s sleep can be” and allows users to record sleep hours and moods, start a sleep journal and offers helpful sleep tips. With a foot in the right direction to target a more digital-savvy generation, I hope to see OTC drugs get creative and think outside the medicine cabinet.

Next Great Posts labeled as Next Great are generally submissions by various contributors, whose information can be found within the text of the article. Next Great posts without author information are the collective effort of the editorial staff: Christine Peterson, Alex Pearlman and Edward Boches.

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