Imagine that the biggest “flaw” of a product is proudly advertised in its official tagline. It sounds crazy, right?

Imagine a cough syrup manufacterer stating in its very own ads that its main product tastes just like: snail trail accumulation, trash bag leakage, cardio workout perspiration, pig tongue scrapings, used mouthwash, spring break hot tub water or public restroom puddle. Say it, #WTF.

Difficult to believe and yet a #truestory, the one of Canadian-born company Buckley’s. Their famous tagline “It tastes awful. And it works” is a winner. It means more sales and bigger market share.

Watch one of the ads on Youtube.

Check this little selection I made of the print ads they used over the years:

  • Our largest bottle is 200ml. Anything more would be cruel.
  • People swear by it. And at it.
  • I’m dedicated to ensuring every new batch of Buckley’s tastes as bad as the last.
  • Made with oil of ine needles. What did you expect it to taste like?
  • Your cough won’t know what hit it, neither will you.
  • Open wide and say “@#$%&*!”

Buckley’s incorporated “awful taste” as a brand attribute in the early ’80s, when they found out after a market research, that their target had this perception about the product.

The goal is clear, it’s the ol’ “let’s turn a weakness into a strength”. But, were the advertisers playing with fire or was that a safe bet? Are there any hidden motivations that trigger people to buy the syrup?

I am going to demonstrate it in five points:

1. The Attention

No need to say that the message is odd and surprising. It doesn’t seem to make sense so it’s impressive. We must admit that the ads grab our attention and make people speak about them. In nowadays terms, we may say this tagline is viral. It’s funny and at the same time, we may remember it.

2. The Dare

The slogan is essentially a dare. Challenges are very strong motivators. People need to know if the taste is as awful as they say. So in fact, it’s not a turn-off, it’s an invitation for validation.

3. The Balance

It would be very foolish to state that a product needs to have a negative brand attribute to increase market share and sales. As you have guessed, you can only do it in very special circumstances. First of all, you have to analyse the flaw and put it in perspective. How big is it? Transcendence, the state of being beyond the range of normal perception, is crucial here. In Buckley’s case, we are kind of used to the fact that cough syrups taste bad. This fact makes this flaw lose some points. Anyway, you still have to put it in a balance with a positive statement that beats it. The good claim is “And it works”. Note the use of “And” after a point instead of “but” and no point. Putting a “but” in there would have been unwise, on the other hand, the “and” after a dot, puts the two sentences in the two pans of the balance scale.

The strategy here is to make the second phrase outweigh the first by using the first to reinforce the second. How? The answer is in the nature itself of the first phrase. Studies demonstrate that mentioning a drawback in your arguments, against your self-interest or product, create “the perception that you and your organization are honest and trustworthy. This puts you in a position to be more persuasive when promoting your genuine strengths” (Goldstein, Martin, Cialdini). So this is what happens: by saying the first phrase, they give more credibility to the second. This tactic has been applied not only in marketing (Volkswagen, Listerine, Avis) but also in Civil Trials.

4. The Pain

David B. Morris, in an article titled Belief and Narrative for The Scientist in 2005, states that the famous “no pain, no gain” is an American modern mini-narrative that compresses the story of a protagonist who understands that the road to achievement runs only through hardship. And it makes sense; If you want to become an architect, you know that you need to study a lot. If you want to run a marathon, you know that you have to train a lot. So Buckley’s says: if you want to get your cough healed, you have to taste a nasty syrup. This card is also played.

5. The Magic

Let’s speak about magic now. Let’s enter the fascinating world of deep psychological factors that influence the perception and effectiveness of medicine. The colour of the box, the shape of the pills, its name or the way it is administrated influence the effectiveness. The power of the mind. A Placebo effect is “the tendency of any medication or treatment, even an inert or ineffective one, to exhibit results simply because the recipient believes that it will work”. Studies have found that a placebo injection is more effective than a placebo pill. Why is that? According doctor Ben Goldacre, author of the bestseller Bad Science, it is because the injection feels like a more dramatic intervention. The more dramatic the ritual, the more effective it will be or, better said, may be perceived.

For above reasons, Buckley’s interest is to present its syrup as the worst in taste. It’s a genius marketing campaign. Also, a safe bet.

Carles Roca-Font
Customer Support Manager at Camaloon

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O.

On sales leadership

These are some values that I learned that define a leader:

– A leader is somebody who reaches their goals and achieves beyond their individual abilities aligned with their own values and the organization’s values. A leader without a team is not a leader. A leader works for the team, not the other way around.

– Humbleness. Leaders must get to know themselves first, acknowledge their limitations. Acknowledge they have no recipe for success (no one does). They will succeed only by being curious and trying things faster, testing, changing things again, failing again, learning as fast as possible. In sales, everybody notices when things work well, success is measured in € vs budget. A leader must embrace results with no buts and take action to reach the goals.

– A leader works harder, a leader cares about the goals more than anybody else, they took full ownership of the goals. A leader does about anything to remove bottlenecks away on his team, they assist, train, support everybody, anything it takes. They are always the best resource for their team.

– A leader will always be available for everybody in their team, for personal and professional issues. They go the extra mile. They make sure everybody knows that. They earn the team’s trust.

– A leader makes everyone aware that teamwork is not negotiable. Without a cooperative team, there’s no leader. Lone wolves kill the growing/changing organization. Growth happens only WITH the team, not at their expense.

– Leaders communicate all the time, they don’t keep things to themselves, they are honest with their team. They share good and bad. They share the why’s. They trust their team. Trust precedes process and it is the only path to grow at a scale.

– Leaders learn fast and learn mostly from their team. The team has the most valuable knowledge a leader can get, it doesn’t come from books, blog posts, degrees or mentors. The team gets the real shit from the front line. A leader listens to their teams’ impressions and ideas, they explore them all and give feedback. Leaders generate a culture of idea generation and idea sharing. Leaders stay away from guru preaching.

– It’s important to understand people’s personal and professional ultimate goals and motivations. Leaders spend time asking them on their one on ones and they think about them. They write them down. Everybody is playing the movie of their lives, a leader must find out which one is it, they make sure each team member keeps being the hero of their movie.

– Leaders always lead by example, not by title. They show real bravery. Leaders go first to battle. They call leads and close customers. They apologize to customers when the company screws up. They take the shit first. They don’t leave anyone behind. They don’t show their rank, their status, their difference, their pedigree. Startups are flat meritocratic organizations. Leaders must understand well the company goals and they put them first, they are prepared to step down, or step aside, or leave the company at any moment if needed. Company goals are what matters most. Leaders show this to everyone. Company/collective oriented leaders always thrive.

– Leaders celebrate every victory. They visibly show the pain of every defeat. They take every opportunity to show they care. They analyze why/what/how and find out always changes to be made. Then they go and make the changes. They change anything or everything, but never keep on doing what doesn’t work. They shake the whole company inside out before/when goals are not met.

– Leaders set goals that are both ambitious and achievable. They work along the team to make sure they meet the goals. They are flexible when the goals are set wrong. They are implacable when goals are not met.

Most people will never be a leader. It takes time and patience, it takes survival skills, it takes real personal strength. But after committing to all these things, things start to work. Leaders are such when and only when they brought teams to make things work, nobody becomes a leader just by trying it. True leaders make sure they don’t leave the boat until things work (as they will work, ultimately!). They don’t leave the job undone.

– Bernat Farrero CEO at Itnig