Ah-choooose Claritin

I think Benadryl was one of my very first words.

As a lifelong allergy sufferer, I remember my childhood through the clouded tissues of dehumidifiers, vaporubs and just about every OTC decongestant known to man. As a small child, I could delineate the purpose of an antihistamine. By the age of six, I could spell pseudoephedrine. And throughout this entire process, my family strung together the latest wonderdrugs like a chain of hope: Benadryl, Tavist-D, Sudafed, Publix-brand Sudafed, Tylenol Allergy Sinus, Allegra, Afrin, Astelin, Flonase.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of each medicine seemed to evaporate as quickly as my Vick’s. Facing a terrible let-down, we would cling to the latest and greatest new product. A store brand with bright red capsules? We’ll take two boxes. A commercial for Nasonex? We’ll try it, cheesy bee graphics and all. Each television ad and brightly packaged tonic buoyed our hope.

It’s a brilliant tactic, the advertising of hope. Drug marketers never focus on the bottom line of “less snot.” They sell lifestyles–alluring days of dancing in the sun with kittens and flowers! After glimpsing that paradise, even healthy viewers want to bring Zyrtec into their lives for a mere $50 per bottle. And sometimes, people who are afflicted with an ongoing problem need the psychological benefits of trying a new approach. Advertising promises that a product will improve your life, and when you’re dealing with cutting-edge drugs, maybe they can actually deliver.

And maybe they can’t. The downside of these optimistic messages is, of course, false hope. Even though the side effects are announced faster than an 80’s era Micromachines commercial, we choose to believe the authoritative actors in white lab coats. It’s only natural to trust the illusion of authority while trying to better our own station in life.

For me, the continuous cycle of wonderdrugs played a part in preventing me from seeking real treatment. I knew immunotherapy in the form of weekly allergy shots would probably help. But as long as there was a new brand of decongestant to try, my parents and I could justify following that path instead of the one lined with needles. After enduring months upon months of red welts on my arms, I’m starting to think I might see a difference!

Meanwhile, I do still take the Claritin. Claritin-D, in fact (Bart Simpson once declined to swap Focusyn for a non-D-carrying Clartin; check out “Brother’s Little Helper” episode notes at www.snpp.com/episodes/AABF22t). I buy the Clartin-D name brand because I hope the thick, sturdy box and hefty round pills mean it’s working. Yes, I should know better. But these shots make me want to eat my shorts, man!

Check out what Ashton at Air America thinks about the commercials (note: it’s a leftist radio station, so there are no major surprises) at www.airamerica.com/springer/blog/508826. For a med student perspective on drug marketing, visit www.studentbmj.com/issues/0105/letters/39b.html. Or tell me what you think by adding a comment! Now, pardon me — I feel a sneeze coming on!

Bubble baths and Yuengling

Baths are great, aren’t they? They’ve got the cleanliness. The bubbles. The cowboy.

I can still remember the first time I saw the Yesterday’s cowboy. A wide-eyed high school junior, I had just finished touring the USC campus with my dad and was naively impressed with the whole atmosphere. There’s just something cool about a man who epitomizes his generation while soaking in a dirty bathtub, whether it’s The Dude or a duderancher.

Like a forgiving deity, the Yesterday’s cowboy then proceeded to watch over my college career. He provided a homing beacon during St. Patrick’s Day revelries and offered a bastion of comfort following a food poisoning incident (no fryer cleaner was involved). Even now, Yesterday’s is where we gather when old friends come into town to talk about English lit and the Drive By Truckers.

Looming large above the never-ending Five Points construction, the Yesterday’s cowboy calls to all of us, washing down the comforts of Yuengling, fried food and college camaraderie in one easily recognizable symbol. Here’s to you, you naked wrangler.

While the Yesterday’s cowboy belongs to all Columbians in Gamecock-inspired ubiquity, another bathtub icon is much more exclusive. It’s called the Red Tub. My theory is that it’s like that island in the Pirates of the Caribbean — you can’t find it unless you’ve been there before.

Nestled on the second floor of the State Street music scene, it blends indoor and outdoor space where students, hippies and the occasional middle schooler can mingle over spirits and cover songs. These people once had a Neil Young tribute night — I mean, you can’t get much more self-righteously uncool than that! And yet, when you go to the bathroom (ahem, the INSIDE bathroom) and check out their flaking red bathtub, you realize that this little indie joint is embracing the same marketing techniques as mainstream Yesterday’s. It’s about forging an icon and building a brand. And bathing, apparently.

So, whether you’re trying to become everyone’s favorite restaurant or recruit a highly specialized crowd of music-lovers, the marketing challenge is the same. You must create a memorable identity that connects with your customers on a symbolic level. And it helps if you happen to know that Columbians are a lather-lovin’ crowd. While I can’t speculate on the reasons behind this affinity for the bathtub, all I know is that whenever a Carolina Rebath commercial comes on the radio, I have an overwhelming urge to grab a Yuengling and sing “Southern Man.”

 

VH1: Leader of the TV Marketing Revolution

I have a confession. This little secret has a history of stopping conversations and shocking friends, but here goes. I’m a VH1 junkie.

It’s a shameful obsession, especially for a member of the under-thirty crowd. And this is not your channel-surfing, drawn in by My Fair Brady type of one-night stand. No, my easy-listening love affair involves Ti-Voing Best Week Ever and entering I Love the 70’s Volume II on my weekly calendar. For shame!

As someone who’s painfully aware of VH1’s yuppie reputation, I was astonished to discover that my favorite one-trick pony has partnered with an underwear hawker to pioneer the next frontier of television marketing. Yes, VH1 and Hanes have set out to conquer the world by thwarting DVR users everywhere!

I discovered VH1’s sneaky plans when I was blissfully fast-forwarding a recorded episode of I Love the 70’s Volume II (we’re talking some good stuff, folks — a regular Burt Reynolds’ mustache segment, a discussion of Leif Garrett’s heartthrob status and clips from Rock ‘n Roll High School)! Catching a glimpse of the show’s Technicolor logo, I hit “play” faster than an old West gunslinger and immediately heard – a Hanes commercial.

That’s right. Hanes harnessed the I Love the 70’s logo and crafted some cheesy message about how comfort never goes out of style. My annoyance quickly shifted to awe. Hanes had managed to do what no other company has yet accomplished: it stopped my DVR commercial evasion mid-skipping session!

It’s such a brilliantly simple premise: Make it look the show is returning, and commercial skippers will stop. Feeling like I’d been hit by a ton of bricks, I watched the whole Hanes presentation, including the scene with that annoying little rugrat shaking his tighty-whities!

After getting tricked several more times (there are 10 shows in the series; it’s brilliant, I tell you), I went through several stages of understanding. There was astonishment that I had been hooked again, followed by a feeling of betrayal from VH1, followed by a begrudging admiration for the gutsy move, followed by a buoyant faith in my profession. Like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, it seems that marketing will always find a way to survive.

I guess time will tell whether consumers’ retention will outweigh their aggravation, but I am smugly satisfied to know that VH1 is leading us in the next marketing revolution.

Positioning a poisoning

I, for one, have lost my taste for martinis. After the reading today’s front-page story about peach martinis rimmed with caustic cleanser at Doc’s Gumbo Grille, I think I’ll stick with water.

Unfortunately for gumbo lovers, this is a story with staying power. It’s got all the makings of an urban legend: a trio of friends out on the town, mistaken identity (apparently, an employee thought the fryer cleaner was sugar) and horrible, haunting consequences for an innocent night of fun.

And while everyone’s hearts go out to the victims, those of us with marketing inclinations also sympathize with Doug Goolsby, the owner of Doc’s Gumbo Grille. You might be dreaming of martini calamities, but our nightmares are the stuff of communications crises.

For any restaurant to survive an incident of this magnitude, it must:

1) Get a public relations person on the case 2) Take full, unflinching responsibility, 3) Fix the problem (and hopefully improve the entire process) and 4) Help the family.

Ever hear of a little company called Tylenol? They’re only around today because of their impeccable handing of the ’80s bottle-tampering crisis. The company took ownership of the problem, invented several life-saving (if frustrating) safety seals and remains associated with all our aches and pain in the most positive way.

Doc’s is on the right track by talking with the press and admitting fault. But today’s story did not mention firing the person responsible, which would demonstrate that such negligence is unacceptable. I’m not calling for a public hanging, but a simple, “The employees involved have been terminated” would increase public solidarity by showing that Doc’s management also finds the behavior reprehensible.

What’s more, Goolsby’s statement, “I hate that anybody gets hospitalized at your place of business,” sounds cold and self-serving. While the natural inclination of most businessmen is to minimize fault, Goolsby must express real sympathy for the victims and remorse for the incident. He can defend the basic operations of the restaurant, but this incident is indefensible, and he must admit it. New studies show that doctors may be able to avoid most malpractice lawsuits with a simple “I’m sorry,” and public relations cases work the same way.

As a big fan of Doc’s she-crab soup, I hope that Goolsby will have the courage to admit responsibility and hold a press conference sharing new safety procedures to ensure that this type of incident never, ever happens again. I want to hear how he will be paying for all medical bills and recovery days at a spa. If the employees responsible are fired, I will eat there again. But I’ll just stick with water, thanks.

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