New Tylenol Ads Walk Thin Line, Product Consultants Say

From Associated Press

The maker of Tylenol, faced with a triple hit of damaging reports that the drug may cause kidney and liver damage, is trying to reassure customers in a new TV ad campaign.

But the two ads say nothing about the health problems. Tylenol maker Johnson & Johnson acknowledges that the omission is an attempt to avoid alerting anyone who isn’t already aware of the concerns.

Consumer product consultants say the ads walk a thin line between presenting a positive message and failing to keep consumers fully informed.

That’s a risky strategy, they say.


Johnson & Johnson has a reputation for frankness that dates back to its handling of the tampering scare of 1982, when seven people died after taking Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide.

The two Tylenol ads premiered Saturday. In one, a woman explains that she has taken Tylenol for years--when she was working and when she became a mother. Since then she has started competing in triathlons and gets new aches and pains. “So now I use Tylenol even more,” she says.

In the other ad, another long-term Tylenol user explains that since new products have emerged, she decided to double-check with her doctor.

“It’s good to know he still recommends Tylenol as his first choice for safe and effective pain relief,” she said.


The ads follow two medical studies on Tylenol published last month and an $8-million jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson in October.

The jury agreed with a Virginia man’s claim that his liver was destroyed by a combination of Tylenol he took for the flu and wine he drank for dinner.


In one of the studies, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that people may face liver damage if they are too sick to eat and take a moderate overdose of acetaminophen--eight to 20 extra-strength tablets in 24 hours instead of the recommended maximum of eight.


In the other study, Johns Hopkins University reported that arthritis sufferers and others who take acetaminophen every day for a year increase their risk of kidney failure by about 40%.

Johnson & Johnson has said the studies apply to a minuscule number of people and that the Hopkins study was flawed. The Virginia man’s liver was destroyed by a virus, not Tylenol, it says.