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.
Customer Support Manager at Camaloon