Turning a Negative into a Selling Point

In the past couple of days, I’ve encountered two pharmaceutical companies who are dealing with the same issue — the taste of medicine — in two different ways.

 Nicorette is running radio commercials announcing “a revolution in quitting smoking… a stop-smoking gum that actually tastes good!” Apparently a common objection of Nicorette users up until now was that they hated the taste; Cinnamon Surge is a new product designed to get past that hurdle.

A day after hearing the Nicorette ad, I walked by a drug store display for Buckley’s Cough Mixture, featuring the tag line “It tastes awful. And It Works.” In contrast to Nicorette, Buckley’s has taken the bad taste and made it the centerpiece of their campaign for their “disgustingly effective products.” Their Myspace page (yes, cough syrup has a Myspace page, and I don’t) features the winners of the Buckley’s Bad Taste Face contest, along with a TV ad in which a blindfolded consumer is unable to tell the difference between Buckley’s and trash bag leakage.

In a previous post, I quoted from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, in which Robert Cialdini discusses the ways people make decisions with incomplete information:

To deal with it, we need shortcuts. We can’t be expected to recognize and analyze all the aspects in each person, event and situation we encounter in even one day. We haven’t the time, energy or capacity for it. Instead, we must very often use our stereotypes, our rules of thumb, to classify things according to a few key features and then to respond without thinking when one or another these trigger features is present…

The example Cialdini cited involved tourists shopping for jewelry — a price rise actually increased demand, because the shoppers figured that a higher price denoted higher quality. Buckley’s is tapping into a similar psychological shortcut that cough syrup buyers might use: bad taste = effective medicine.

Nicorette is trying to change its prospects’ minds about their product. Buckley’s, by contrast, has accepted the consumer’s mindset and used it to the company’s benefit.

One problem, two opposite approaches. I like Buckley’s chances.


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