Confession: We murdered two Doctors in 2006

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

Marketing Execution 2016.019In the fall of 2006, when I was working in Marketing at Johnson and Johnson, I can now safely confess that we murdered two doctors. One was a 15 year “Doctor Recommended” campaign for Benylin Cough Medicine, and the other was a 10 year “Doctor and Pharmacist recommended” campaign for Nicoderm Quit Smoking Patches. Both murders were pre-meditated. And both doctors deserved it.

Inheriting doctor spots is one big yawn. They feel very 1980s. In fact, people have made fun of doctor ads since the 1970s, which must mean that consumers have long been sick of this technique.

The first Doctor we murdered: An old Benylin cough syrup “Doctor”

Year after year from 1990 to 2005, Benylin trudged out a new doctor spot, each following the same formula. There was the pompous doctor speaking down to everyone including the consumer to establish a position of authority hoping that people would assume “wow, that Benylin must really work”. Here’s an example of the condescending advertising.


The second Doctor we murdered: An old Nicoderm “Doctor” 

On the other hand, Nicoderm was so insecure they used BOTH doctors and pharmacists, just in case you thought one was not enough. One big yawn. For most campaigns, one of the big challenges is finding ways to keep it fresh year after year. But let’s admit it, the best ads are usually in the first few years. With Benylin and Nicoderm, having such a small idea to start made it hard for the best of creatives to keep it fresh and interesting.



The ad tracking on both brands were flat and declining for years, but everyone on the team was afraid to do anything. Nicoderm was rapidly losing share while Benylin was stuck, almost unable to fight off the new comers to the category.

What’s wrong with using Doctors?

Doctor campaigns force you into a zone where it’s non-stop talk about the product. No focus at all on consumers–they don’t matter when you have such a great product. And Doctors mainly talk features, not even benefits.  It’s all about association, not about consumer insights. Doctor ads have been “done to death”, making them wall paper. Consumers who see these ads are left feeling indifferent, and can barely find a way to even “Like” the brand.

Advertising is a great tool to really connect with consumers. But Brand Leaders afraid of getting emotional feel in a safe zone with a vehicle that just talks about the product. They can tell the consumer everything they know about their brand. And they avoid getting all  emotional with consumers because that can feel scary.  But in reality, the consumer will never care about what you do, until you start showing that you care about what they want. Sales 101 or Dating 101, use the same rule: “get them talking about themselves.” How come advertising 101 says “Let’s talk about ourselves and hope they love us”? Great advertising should start with the consumer first, not the product. 

New Benylin TV Ad Without Doctors

With Benylin, it’s pretty darn obvious that when consumers get a cold, they feel like total crap and want to take a day off.

But no brand would ever say that, would they? Advil tells consumers they can do anything (go for a swim, a run, a hike or work all day) when they are sick. Benylin did the un-thinkable, the riskiest thing that a Cough Medicine could do. They said “take a day off, rest up and get better”. This put the brand on the side of the consumer. Benylin found that magic insight to move the brand from Indifferent all the way to “Love It”. The Benylin brand team took a huge risk that year, and it paid off, with strong solid share gains in a tough category to make gains and won a Cassie Award for the results. The lesson here:  going down the middle of the road is riskier than going either left or right. I followed my team’s lead on this, admiring their guts in killing doctors. I kept saying, “Can you believe we used The Clash in a Benylin spot?”

New Nicoderm TV Ad Without Doctors

On Nicoderm, the insight we used was “consumers don’t feel themselves when they try to quit smoking”. Basically, it sucks &*!$% when you quit smoking. There was a push to have a claim, like most medical marketing.  (eg Our product is better than yours,  or with us, you can quit 6x as good). But really, the only claim we saw was “quitting smoking will suck less with Nicoderm”. People on our team kept saying “quitting smoking is serious, so we need to have a serious TV ad to convey how serious it is”. That restriction put a major handcuff on the creative team and we saw some pretty boring ads. The creative team was asking to have that restriction lifted and when we did, pure magic happened. In Ipsos AdLab testing, this was the strongest ad we ever tested at J&J. This ad has generated over 1 Million hits on youtube and won the best Global Ad for J&J in 2006.  Nicoderm saw a big 20% spike in sales. The lesson here is to always eliminate creative road blocks and trust that the work gets better.


One last thing: when we killed doctors on both of these, we won over the creative teams. We showed up differently to the agency and the creative teams. Creative People wanted to work on our brands, and the work on other brands got even better. With two great campaigns in a row from our shop, everyone on our team wanted to make better work. A huge overall lesson: great people, empowered and motivated will make great work.

You get the advertising you deserve. 


Here’s an insight video, done by Jack Perone at JWT, supporting the Benylin Day idea.



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