Relief for the common cold

Ted Lachmansingh's brand portfolio hasn't changed much in the past 10 years, aside from going through three different owners - Warner-Lambert, Pfizer and now Johnson & Johnson. Throughout it all, he's been the one constant variable, and his track record of consistent market-share gains over the years has allowed him to come through the multiple acquisitions unscathed.

Ted Lachmansingh’s brand portfolio hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years, aside from going through three different owners – Warner-Lambert, Pfizer and now Johnson & Johnson. Throughout it all, he’s been the one constant variable, and his track record of consistent market-share gains over the years has allowed him to come through the multiple acquisitions unscathed.

The 39-year-old, Markham, Ont.-based Lachmansingh has recently seen two of his brands – Benylin and Benadryl – through significant rebranding efforts that aim to create emotional connections with consumers.

Moving Benylin away from the successful ‘Doctor Recommended’ positioning it sported for over 17 years was a bit of a scary proposition. But Lachmansingh knew it wouldn’t work forever, especially since most people don’t go to their doctors to treat common colds anymore. ‘It was definitely a gutsy approach to walk away from a 17-year campaign. I personally was nervous about that,’ he recalls. ‘We realized the campaign was losing steam. People remembered the brand, but they didn’t like the advertising – it was cold and distant.’

To remedy this, Lachmansingh and his team, along with their AOR, Toronto-based JWT Canada, embarked on an 18-month research campaign to glean consumer insights. ‘Ted had said, ‘I’m open to another approach as well,’ but that’s something I’ve heard a lot,’ recalls Colin Winn, group creative head at JWT. He and Lachmansingh later had an informal meeting at a restaurant, where Lachmansingh assured him that he was serious about change. ‘He is quite open-minded. He recognizes when things aren’t working.’

Lachmansingh and his team developed a psychological profile of a sick person: they know they’re sick, but they feel guilty about missing work. All of the other cold brands were telling consumers to be troupers, to take their medicine and get on with their days. Thus, there was an opportunity for Benylin to be the friendly brand, reassuring consumers that it’s OK for them to take the time to get better. ‘We’re the brand saying, ‘If you’re feeling sick, it’s OK to take a day off’ – consumers found it refreshing,’ says Lachmansingh. ‘Most consumers feel that no one medicine is better – what we needed to do was really connect with the consumer on an emotional level.’

The resulting ‘Take a Benylin Day’ campaign included a commercial featuring the iconic song ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by The Clash, whose lyrics captured the sentiments of someone who’s feeling sick and debating whether or not to go to work.

‘As a former punk rocker from the 70s, I was very skeptical about whether The Clash would actually sell the rights to the song for a commercial,’ says Martin Shewchuk, JWT’s ECD. ‘I give full credit to Ted and Graham [Robertson, director of marketing on upper respiratory at the time], and my team at JWT for having the tenacity to make it happen.’

The campaign also included a microsite, takeabenylinday.com, which was set up to appeal to a person taking a sick day. It featured things like tips on how to feel better as well as time-passers like crossword and Sudoku puzzles. The new strategy has already paid off. Last season, even though fewer people suffered from colds, Benylin’s sales and market share went up. Benylin will continue to build on the concept this season.

Overhauling the Benadryl strategy was an easier internal sell for Lachmansingh. Since it was a smaller brand that had been neglected over the years, there was very little to lose. ‘Benadryl hadn’t been actively marketed in seven to eight years, because we have a much bigger [allergy] brand – Reactine,’ explains Lachmansingh. Research showed that seasonal allergy sufferers tended to forget about their allergies until they struck, so the challenge was to keep the brand top-of-mind at all times. ‘We needed to do something different to get people’s attention when they’re not suffering,’ he says. JWT came back to him with an idea for a jib-jab animation commercial, which Lachmansingh loved because it was so different for the category.

The new strategy was to appeal to the mainstream, not just allergy sufferers, and to make Benadryl a staple in all medicine cabinets. The commercial features a jaunty jib-jab man encountering potential triggers like a big strawberry and a perfume bottle, illustrating that you never know when an allergy attack might happen. The tag is ‘Remember the ‘Dryl.’ Lachmansingh says the positioning is working well, and they’ve met their aggressive sales targets for the year. They plan to build on the concept next spring.

Both Benadryl and Benylin have been in Lachmansingh’s portfolio for almost a decade. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native joined Warner-Lambert in 1996 after earning his MBA at the University of Western Ontario. Previously, he did a brief stint teaching science at a high school in Smooth Rock Falls, Ont., after securing a Master of Science degree at McMaster University. He quickly realized teaching wasn’t his thing, and opted to go to business school, where he fell in love with marketing.

The recent takeovers by Pfizer (2002) and J&J (2006) saw Lachmansingh add Reactine and Tylenol Cold to the fold. The new brands were previous competitors for Benadryl and Benylin, respectively, presenting Lachmansingh with a unique challenge.

He inherited Reactine about two years ago, and has been continuing with the Reactine Man concept developed before his time. This past year, he and his brand manager, Maria Gregory, introduced a cross-country tour that entailed the Reactine Van driving from Vancouver to Ottawa, stopping in small towns and cities to distribute samples along the way. The van’s driver kept a travel blog at reactine.ca.

Tylenol Cold, one of Benylin’s competitors, just landed in his portfolio this year. Lachmansingh is tight-lipped about what, if any, changes he’ll make to the Tylenol Cold brand. ‘I’ve got four brands in the portfolio. It’s interesting trying to figure out how to position them differently,’ he says.

Now that he’s developed a taste for overhauling the meds, who knows? We just might see a revamped Tylenol Cold in the near future.