Have you ever asked for acetaminophen?
More than likely, you’ve asked if anyone has some Tylenol. That’s a classic example of brand success. If you visit the Tylenol website, you’ll find 20 different varieties of the product, and learn that the parent company is the McNeil Laboratories subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
In the mid ’70s, Tylenol moved from the 5th most popular analgesic to become the number one branded over the counter (OTC) analgesic product on the market. It had become a more familiar pain relieving product than aspirin. As often happens when a product is the top-selling or more recognized brand, someone or something tries to take it down.
In 1982, someone tampered with bottles of Tylenol Extra Strength by adding cyanide which killed several people in the Chicago area. No one was ever caught, but Johnson & Johnson made a smart move. The company distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors and halted Tylenol production and advertising. On October 5, 1982, it issued a nationwide recall of an estimated 31 million bottles of Tylenol products with a retail value of more than $100 million.
Some considered the move a death knell for the product, while the consuming public praised it for the emphasis placed on the greater well-being of the general public.
The company advertised in the national media for individuals not to consume any products that contained acetaminophen. When it was discovered that only capsules were tampered with, Johnson & Johnson offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules already purchased by the public with solid tablets. The company also took the innovative step of creating tamper proof seals for bottles, creating a renewed sense of security with the consuming public when Tylenol was re-released.
Now, more than 30 years later, the tampering incident is little more than a footnote in the product’s history. The Tylenol brand owns the market for acetaminophen pain relieving products. Bayer still owns the brand recognition for aspirin, while one of the other pain relieving medications, Ibuprofen, has become recognized for the product rather than the manufacturer. In essence, it is it’s own brand.
The lesson in this case study of a successful brand is that Tylenol has dominated when it comes to the 1st Law of Marketing: The Law of Leadership.
It is the leading brand because it is the first brand in the prospective customer’s mind. People don’t ask for acetaminophen, they ask for Tylenol. Once you have a customer, they are likely to stick with your brand – as evidenced by Johnson & Johnson’s success with recalling Tylenol products because of the tampering incident. Tylenol has become the generic term for acetaminophen, another example of that 1st Law of Marketing.
Remember that marketing is perception, not the product, so people perceive the first product in their mind to be the superior product. The first brand tends to maintain its leadership because the name often becomes generic, as is the case with Tylenol.
Professional consultants are available to help your product become the #1 brand at whatever scale is possible.