Canada’s ‘bad’ medicine.
“We’re #1, But We Taste Like #2” quipped a former Buckley’s ad—just one example of a ‘tell like it is’ advertisement for Buckley’s cough suppressant. To be sure, Buckley’s is nasty tasting, awful smelling stuff. The thick, gooey, sugar- and alcohol-free liquid is the kind of elixir that will send shivers down your spine and clear the cobwebs from your head at the first wince-filled spoonful.
While most cough syrup companies spend millions trying to convince us how palatable they are, Buckley’s has taken a decidedly different approach. Embracing the unembraceable, the Ontario-based company proudly flaunts the fact that they have the worst tasting remedy in the business—an unorthodox marketing strategy that has made the company a household name in Canada and is now delivering slow, but steady growth in the United States.
While Buckley’s has been in existence since 1919 and has always utilized a no-nonsense advertising approach, the company’s current tactics can be traced back to the early ’80s, when as fate would have it, their ad agency went belly up. After a year’s worth of market research the replacement agency realized that everyone in Canada was already aware of Buckley’s—along with its bad taste and undeniable effectiveness. Thus, the agency developed the “It Tastes Awful, And It Works,” campaign featuring company president, Frank Buckley, as spokesman.
At first not everyone was a believer, not even the company president. “When I came to Buckley’s in 1986,” says John Meehan, part owner and current president, “I didn’t like our message. I thought, ‘How can you ever say that about your brand? That’s got to be the stupidest thing ever.’” But he soon realized that the campaign helped to further differentiate an already differentiated product. “Not to denigrate the competition,” continues John, but all the [other] products are the same. You have a clear, purple or green liquid with sugar or alcohol in it and an active ingredient. They all look the same and work the same and they’re all equally effective. But when you take Buckley’s mixture….”