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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T.

The new time and attendance law will kill innovation in Spain and Europe

Simple solutions or “one fits all” policies are easy to market by populist governments but they are sometimes at the expense of certain sectors and their people. This time the affected party is innovation and value added services, to a point that puts in jeopardy our (already weak) spot in the global competitiveness landscape.

I’ve always told my teams that I do not hire their time, but rather their talent and potential: their brains, their energy and passion and their willing to make a difference and impact our clients and the world through them. Innovative companies try to get in existing markets and solve things in complete different ways, some go as far as creating new markets from scratch. They all have in common that their mission is extremely hard, sometimes impossible (thus most fail along the way). The key for their success is how they manage to convince their teams that everything they do is not a job, but a religion. They are changing the world and that is something worth spending time and making history.

I can tell if somebody is motivated by their job by looking at their eyes while they talk about their challenges and ideas. Best people don’t work, they play. They make their challenges their hobbies. I’ve had many conversations at 1 am in the office, after some beers and sushi, before even realizing what time it is. Only when a job makes this kind of conditions happen, the wheel of significant value creation really stirs and great things come from it.

It is very hard to create a culture in which people feel so empowered that they are capable of anything. In my experience, it helps granting absolute flexibility. I don’t remember the last time I approved vacations to my team, or I paid attention to their schedules, or the days in which they worked from home or the office. This is not the kind of conversations I want to have with them. My relationship with my team is based on trust, and it is based on one single (often repetitive) conversation: how can we do more and better, how can we grow faster, how can we raise the bar. Little it matters to me whether they contribute to this questions from the beach in Canary Islands or spending many hours in the office.

However, the government today decided that it is a great idea in the 21th century that all companies like ours should make everybody clock in and clock out by law. I’m now obliged to add people’s time and attendance into our conversation. We now have to treat all jobs like production lines in factories (amidst the era of hyper automation and robotization). They go as far as having us registering accurate pauses for lunch. Unfortunately they don’t include how should we manage the time spent in the chill-out area, or when having long coffees in the outside terrace, or spending the afternoon in ping pong championships. Should we clock-in and clock-out every time we do that too?

When I travel I always get asked how is the Spanish ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation developing, I always defend our potential to become a leading actor in science and technology,  besides our current reputation for tapas, toros and siesta. We previously analysed the many initiatives taking place in the city of Barcelona. But my question is: is there anybody in the government actually helping us to make this happen?

The new law will come to place the next 12th of May. At Factorial we developed a free feature, so companies can instantly become compliant with the law. Interestingly enough, almost immediately after launching this feature people started developing tools using our API to automate clocking or connecting it with Slack and other interfaces. It looks like after all there will always be people willing to work on relevant things and not waste their energy in bureaucratic traps.

PD: You can find more information about the law in this article.