The Antithesis of Advil’s Every Pain Reliever: Tylenol’s New Public Relations Strategy

“Headache from a hard day at work. Backache from carrying the baby. I’m all Advil—because Advil works on all my pains.” That’s the kind of marketing you’d expect from an average pain reliever, right? Not since Tylenol launched their new consumer-conscious ad campaign that borders on public service announcements rather than actual commercials. Instead of encouraging you to pop a pill (their pill) for all your aches and pains, Tylenol suggests drinking a glass of water to prevent headache-causing dehydration or meditating before work to prevent tension headaches.

If Advil is the “Every Pain Reliever,” Tylenol is now the “Nothing Pain Reliever”—drink a glass of water instead. By making the use of their product almost obsolete if users follow their tips instead, Tylenol sends a befuddling message. Are they going into the advice business? Or are they simply building trust in their brand by offering themselves as a resource (and a last resort) for consumers?

From a PR standpoint, the second strategy is not half bad. Small businesses use that tactic every day by providing the media with expert commentary on pressing issues and industry news without “selling” themselves. Public relations strategy comes into question when it’s on such a large scale, though. Viewers are less likely to trust the motives of an advertiser paying millions of dollars to give them advice about pain relief.

Regardless of their reasoning, though, Tylenol has taken a bold step in the right direction for their brand. Advertising Age asked recently retired VP-advertising at Johnson & Johnson Andrea Alstrup about the advertising industry and Tylenol’s take on it. Alstrup said: “The world has changed so drastically…but yet we still want to go back to some of those core values and some of the core important things that advertising can bring.” If that means the unorthodox use of public relations strategy, then Tylenol is taking on that challenge.


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