Advil Runs Around Mucus

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“Don’t blame mucus,” the Advil Congestion Relief ad campaign declares so it can promote its anti-inflammation properties as a cold medicine. I love it.

The ads are nothing to write home about; the obligatory creative take on the pitch gives us a grubby ethnic-looking guy in a green T-shirt (labeled “Mucus,” in case there was any doubt) sitting on or near people suffering from stuffy noses and telling them that their discomfort isn’t his fault. Advil is “the right sinus medicine for the real problem,” which is swollen nasal passages.

Some comedian whose tweets great republished by The Huffington Post doesn’t like it, while an anti-misandry blogger praised it for its don’t-blame-the-guy message. A PR stunt to get mall shoppers to text a number to avoid crowded retail stores by winning the services of a personal shopper (their own “personal Black Friday Decongester”) ran concurrently with the ad launch. I can’t imagine anybody cared about this tactic, but I’m sure it looked great in the PowerPoint that sold it to the client. Perhaps competitors will copy it in 2011.

Blah blah blah. I love the campaign because I think the strategy could be smart for the brand and for sales:

First, it encourages a new use for an old product. For all the talk of innovation and product development these days as the engines of success, it seems to me that the user benefits of most brands aren’t appreciated as much as they should be…by consumers, or by the marketers who sell to them. It’s more fun to come up with new things, and doing so can often liberate us from the limitations of what we should otherwise know to be true (like the fact that the vast majority of new product introductions fail, for starters). 

Second, it does so by treating consumers like adults. There’s no complicated creative trick to get or endure (other than the lame Mr. Mucus), and the product itself is simply ibuprofen in a different box (with a little mucus-fighter thrown in for good measure). Its POV is simple, clear, and can be articulated in a sentence — in my words, it’s “fight what really causes your nasal decongestion” — and the supporting case is equally brief and believable. No need to make the case overly funny, despite the best efforts of Advil’s creative team. It just rings of common sense.

Third, it puts the product physically into another aisle in pharmacies and grocery stores, thereby increasing the likelihood that consumers will find it. This is perhaps the most important marketing-relevant innovation of the entire campaign. More product facings equals more chances to sell, and combined with even a residual awareness of anti-inflammatory drugs as treatments for nasal congestion, the additional exposures could prompt more pickup. More marketing strategies need to start with these sort of arrangements in mind.

The marketing creative could have led to any number of publicity events or social media stunts to support the message, not to mention better ads. At least Advil didn’t insult us with a cartoon character or some feel-good claims of efficacy without noting why the drug might work. But its execution is forgettable. And I love the campaign.

(Image credit: Medical Marketing & Media)

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