Sometimes sometimes a crisis can have an unexpected beginning.
In the middle of the
night, on the West Coast, the proverbial little old lady awoke in some
discomfort. She grabbed for her familiar over-the-counter pain reliever. She fumbled
with a few items on her night table, got some water, took the tablets and went
back to sleep.
The next morning the
lady began tidying up. She noticed several scattered tablets on the floor, some
of which didn’t bear their familiar logo. She wondered what she had taken
during the night.
She strolled off to
the drugstore, presented the pharmacist with the mysterious pills and asked him
what they were. He didn’t know but gave her a new bottle of her favourite
She called the
manufacturer’s toll-free number to ask if they would take a sample of the
tablets and tell her what was in them. The company sent her a new bottle of tablets
In ten days, the
little old lady had two new bottles of pills for her trouble but was no closer
to an answer to her question of what she had taken in the middle of the night.
Her next call was to
an advocacy journalist at a national network. This story had all the elements
needed to get on the air—a compelling victim, a West Coast focus, a classic David
and Goliath tale, a tight-lipped company and memories of the Tylenol poisoning case,
in which seven people died horrible deaths when someone tampered with that pain-relief
The journalist sent
the pills to a lab for analysis. Then he made a stand-up broadcast from the
company headquarters. His script spoke compassionately about the little old lady’s
fears and indignantly over the company’s lack of response to her and to him. He
created drama and mystery about what might have been in the bottle and, by
inference, what might be in millions of bottles in the marketplace.
The punch line of the
journalist’s dramatic item involved telling the little old lady that the
mystery pills were a generic, differently marked tablet with the same
ingredients as her usual ones. Most probably she had mixed up the contents of
her own bottles and hadn’t noticed.
The lady got her
answer and free tablets. The viewers were entertained with a short, dramatic
The only loser was
the multinational company, with 100 years of brand equity at stake. It was
operating against generic, over-the-counter products without patent protection.
So the main thing it was selling in the marketplace was brand recognition, brand
equity, quality control, reputation and the sum of its marketing-efforts over
That seems worth protecting a little more