Tag Archives: tylenol

Post Brand Positioning Seminar

I attended a great Brand Positioning seminar today held at the Enterprise Center of Johnson County. Today’s speaker was Grant Gooding of Proof Positioning. Let’s drop a cliche here: It was an engaging and informative talk delivered by an excellent speaker.

I knew I was out of my neck of the woods when I overheard a discussion behind me where one person lamented, “It’s not that the money is going away … I guess it’s just converting into equity.”

Most people I know don’t talk that way. Or perhaps I just spend my money on the wrong things.

Probably the most interesting point made was distinguishing between business decisions and brand decisions. Much of the rest of the talk was distilled here into the idea that we make a lot of decisions every day about our companies. Some of these are clearly Business Decisions – those intended to maximize margins in the short term. Some are clearly Brand Decisions – those that are intended to build the brand regardless of short term margins. (note: I’m paraphrasing these definitions here. I don’t want to give short shrift to Grant.)

95797955-1-207x300As examples, he focused on two companies: Starbucks and Tylenol.

With respect to Tylenol, the cyanide poisonings of 1982. I remember this well. These poisonings came about a month before Halloween and pretty much put an end to the holiday that year. By the way, guess how many people have even been poisoned by Halloween Candy?

Why bring up Tylenol’s troubled past? Because of the way that, then Johnson and Johnson CEO, James Burke, handled the crisis. From Time Magazine‘s article on the occasion of his death, “Under Burke’s leadership, the company spent $100 million to recall 31 million bottles of Tylenol and re-launched the product two months later in tamper-proof packaging.” Burke’s actions, which looked to be devastating to the company at the time, won him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.

How about that? A brand decision so good that President Clinton awards you the Presidential Medal of Freedom? Slam dunk.

A second example, which is totally appropriate to bring up now, because I’m sitting in one, is Starbucks. To paraphrase again, What did the decision to put a drive thru on a Starbucks have on their brand? What defines the Starbucks brand? The coffee – or the experience? Perhaps putting Starbucks cups in the hands of half the population is great for advertising, but what does it do to the experience?

It doesn’t look like there is much room for the ‘Starbucks Experience’ in this building:


Would you like an authentic coffeehouse experience with that, sir?


Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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I’ve been thinking about Tylenol a lot lately.

ImageHaving only recently recovered from the Flu, the constant headache I’ve been suffering for the past 24 hours may well be due to my inability to keep up with a healthy intake of caffeine while ill. My wife assures me, that with a conscientious recaffeination strategy I can be well on the road to wellbeing soon enough.

That’s good. Hopeful, even.

ImageAnd if the constant headache makes me question the meaning and value of life, then it’s a comfort to know that a dose of acetaminophen can help with the headache AND with the existential angst. The Psychological Science paper, The common pain of surrealism and death: Acetaminophen reduces compensatory affirmation following meaning threats tells us not to worry about existence… pop a pill. Well, they don’t actually say that, but they do offer evidence suggesting that it may help.

The research by Daniel Randles, Steven J. Heine and Nathan Santos of the University of British Columbia, is based on the Meaning Maintenance Model (MMM), which “focuses on people’s compensatory responses to violations of expectations, termed meaning threats. The model argues that any perceived meaning threat produces unpleasant arousal that often lies outside of awareness, and is non-specific to the causal stimulus.” They explain that people will respond to these disturbances  “by affirming any available unrelated schema to which they are committed. These affirmations of intact meaning frameworks serve to dispel the unpleasant sense that something is wrong.”

To test this, among other things subjects were exposed to David Lynch’s Rabbits, which is defined by its lack of any discernable meaning (vs a control screening) and then either given 1000mg of acetaminophen of placebo.

Now here’s the fun part. How do people respond to disturbances of meaning (AKA existential angst)? Right, by affirming any available unrelated schema… like, say, the criminal justice system. Because the study was taking place soon after a riot incited by the Vancouver Canucks failure to claim the Stanley Cup, students were asked how severely rioters should be punished.

You know the answer, it’s in the title, but by how much?

ImageNo kidding?! – Watching David Lynch really makes people that much more likely to serve up stiff sentences? Whaddayaknow.

I found this article to be really entertaining. Another common method for testing people’s meaning – threats is to ask how high bail should be set for someone being tried for prostitution. How can you not read this stuff? You can download a copy of the original article as a word doc here. Or read someone else’s account of it here.

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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


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