Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mucinex® Appalling

I’m not the only one who finds Mr Mucus (eeew!), the advertising mascot and chief spokes-thing for Mucinex, to be largely genuinely repulsive. Kimberly Ripley, writing on, said in 2006:

The first advertisement I saw had me sitting upright, laughing, and shaking my head in disgust...all at the same time. Mucous has mated. It has procreated, which resulted in little mucous wad children bouncing on their tiny twin beds. Have you ever watched mucous have a pillow fight?

I've complained about the Mucinex ads before. Mucous is personified. It wears overalls and carries a suitcase as it is evicted from some poor slob's lungs after...of course...using Mucinex. In subsequent ads Mucous gets an apartment, marries a female wad of mucous in a white dress and veil, and even visits elderly mucosal in-laws.

Adams Respiratory Therapeutics of Ft. Worth, TX, has itself a family of winners in the Mucuses. The marketing for this product line (Mucinex, Mucinex D, Maximum Strength Mucinex, Musinex DM, etc.) is beating the snot out of every other competitor. Jim Edwards, writing on a year ago, noted:

In just three years, Mucinex has come from nowhere and now threatens to end the dominance of the traditional giants of the category. Mucinex’s sales have gone through the roof and currently rival or exceed that of McNeil/Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol and Benadryl, and Wyeth’s Robitussin…The general consensus is that Adams’ success has come from its memorably disgusting marketing. Ads, handled in-house, show Mr. Mucus and his equally hideous family taking up unwanted residence in someone's lungs, and then being evicted by Mucinex. “Mucinex in. Mucus out,” is the tag.

The kicker, according to Edwards, is that Adams may have gotten the US FDA to “help out” with restricting other OTC medicines in this category, giving Mucinex a clear run at the niche lead.

One sidelight is the September story of two 10-year-old Florida boys who used Mucinex tablets to get higher than kites – then sick to their stomachs. This kind of news doesn’t get much play…and probably shouldn’t: If Mucinex does work as advertised, then it’s rightly popular. The manufacturer has outmaneuvered both the competition and the regulators and seems to be delivering an effective product.

Which brings us back to the messages, the media and Mr Mucus. The advertising budget is overwhelming. The copy is relentless – in one current ad, the word “Mucinex” occurs nine times; the word “mucus” shows up six times. (See here, “mucus” seems to be Latin for the noun meaning “slimy, semi-fluid discharge from the nose.” Ripley's “mucous” is supposed to be the adjectival form. Good luck with that.)

The art of Mr Mucus, though, is admirable. TV commercials are consistent and the website nicely interactive. There’s even a segment for kids. I’d never have come up with Mr Mucus…I am too Victorian. But the creators of this set of spokes-things clearly have a nose for it.

In fact, the Mucus Family’s originators follow in a long line of ad-guys of the type that brought us halitosis, BO and “the heartbreak of psoriasis.” I want our American Marketing Association chapter to invite this team to Houston for a case history presentation right now!


Richard Laurence Baron said...

10/12/07: Reckitt Benckiser Group plc (RB.L) (“Reckitt Benckiser”) and Adams Respiratory Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ARxT) (“Adams”) today announce that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Reckitt Benckiser will tender for the acquisition of Adams for $60 per share in cash, representing a total consideration for Adams’ fully diluted share capital of approximately $2.3bn or £1.1bn. This transaction will be financed by Reckitt Benckiser by cash on hand and existing credit facilities.

The acquisition was completed 1/30/08.

According to a recent fact sheet, Reckitt Benckiser is now #2 worldwide in the sale of cough relief medicines. Spokes-thing "Mr Mucus" isn't pictured on even though Mucinex is one of the company's Power Brands.

Jef Loeb said...

While the yuck factor is unmistakable, what you're calling "repulsion marketing" is an evergreen strategy for whole classes of products and services.

Think bathroom cleansers (Clorox), pest exterminators (Orkin) OTC promoters like Reckitt, and, well, the list is extensive. The simple reason is that it works and the equally transparent reason for that is that problem/solution advertising establishes a very direct line between a sales objective and the sale itself – even if a few stomachs are turned along the way.

Not that grossing people out is the only way to fly in this area: problem/solution has, in a way, underpinned startlingly wonderful executions on subjects as diverse as milk (the deprivation strategy is a form of same, no?) to furniture (“unboring” from Crispin for IKEA, ditto) to, come to think of it, the very interesting “your dreams miss you” campaign from Rozerum.

Side note: very interesting article in the New York Times today, talking about the first-ever detectable decline in pharma sales, as people tilt in favor of food on table and gas in tank versus drugs in cabinet. Whether this prompts the category to amp up the hard “repulsion sell” or not is an open question. Although it wouldn’t be a big shock if it did.

Kathy Mackey said...

Neat post... but from a friend... be kind to the regulators and FDA. In the pharma world...they are, as you know, the watch dog and are generally treated with respect. Drugs, whether over the counter or prescription are made safe by the FDA. Look what happened to infant milk and pet food in China.

We want the FDA to continue doing a good job for us. An FDA regulator can shut down any drug. Case in point for a few recent profile drugs coming off clinical trials that were not approved. Hope you are doing well.

Ken Bullock said...

I am not a big fan of "repulsion marketing" but from a historical perspective there is real value in using it to promote products and services. For instance the whole Charmin bath tissue campaign "Don't squeeze the charmin" and Mr Whipple. If I recall correctly the American people generally didn't like Mr Whipple but it was a hugely successful campaign for Charmin. I even think it helped unseat the Scott brand from its number one position at the time.

I am sure that there are other examples that are more current. This was one that just came to mind when I read your post.

I have been increasingly interested in advertising as an area of study and the Charmin campaign was included in part of some recent reading.

William Hartwell said...

Hmmm, i've never heard it phrased that way before. Is it because the problem is repulsive (mucus, roaches, foot fungus, etc.) or the marketing/advertising is repellent?

I was once told, when I was starting out, if you were marketing bug spray no one wanted to see actual dead bugs... so, at that time, the solution was to produce cartoon-like TV commercials showing talking, "scared" bugs.

Times have changed, though...if the product works we overlook the unsightliness for effectiveness.

Mike Lynn said...

Funny you should mention this campaign because I have had the same issue(s).

It has been amazingly successful and I believe that the repulsion factor is its saving grace because, first of all, it can't be ignored. And isn't the first thesis of the ad manifesto "GET THEIR ATTENTION!"

Second, and this is conjecture, the repetition of the name seems to have been a great idea because it linked brand name to visuals (thesis #2!). Too often, despite a great commercial, the linkage (brand to image) is never established.

The other nite my wife saw this commercial and despite all her negative comments, she remembered the name.

In short, repulsion, handled well (a stab in the dark really) can generate great results.

But there is not pat answer to this question. Remember the lamisil (?) commercials w/those nasty fungus creatures that dug under the toenails (hurts just to mention it!). Also very successful and I remembered the brand even to this day!

Matt said...

I think these are very clever commercals. They might be disgusting but they are memorable. The fact that they are so different from any other ad just makes them easier to remember. That's why so many people remember Mucinex is for mucus build-up as opposed to Tylenol or Benadryl. Would you rember a kid coughing or a slimy glob of mucuc being blow out of it's home?

Anonymous said...

I find their negative stereotyping of motorcycle riders in their recent advertising to be offensive, appalling and disgusting. Remember them? You bet. I rarely forget bigotry in any form...especially something as insidious as this type.

Betty B.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Thanx for the note, Betty - I haven't seen what appears to be (from your comment) any new Mucinex commercials. Merry Season...