What Tylenol Can Teach Us About Facebook
Chase Koeneke | Associate Creative Director

Tylenol has long-been one of the ubiquitous, great America brands, but in 1982, the pain reliever’s future was in question.

For those too young to remember, by October of that year it was determined the mysterious deaths of seven Chicago-area residents resulted from cyanide poisoning in Tylenol, which at the time was the best-selling, non-prescription pain reliever sold in the U.S.

The reputation makeover of the brand is considered a case study in effective crisis communications.  More important, the next year legislation was passed making it a federal offense to tamper with consumer products, and in 1989, the Food & Drug Administration established new federal guidelines for manufacturers to make all such products tamper-proof.

Tylenol + intrusion = sweeping industrywide changes to how over-the-counter medicines are packaged today.

This brings us to Facebook, another ubiquitous American brand presently in the white hot spotlight for all the wrong reasons. We’ve discussed this quite a bit on our blog here, here and here since it first unfolded, and I wrote about the long-range impact for Ad Week recently. It’s important. It is worth the analysis. These privacy violations impact more than 2 billion consumers worldwide and we are yet to understand the full scale nor impact.

As I noted in Ad Week, “…the assumption is that theirs (Cambridge Analytica) was not an isolated case (of violating personal privacy online).”  This was confirmed Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes” when the man behind all of this — Aleksandr Kogan — said that “Tens of thousands” of apps are doing the same thing through Facebook relative to consumer privacy that his app was doing.

“This was a core feature of the Facebook platform for years,” he told CBS’s Leslie Stahl. “This was not a special permission you had to get. This was just something that was available to anybody who wanted it who was a developer.”

Tylenol was, and now is again, the best-selling, non-prescription pain reliever. Facebook is the largest social media platform by a longshot. You can smell the fallout coming. What will Facebook’s plastic safety wrap look like? Nobody knows. More than likely, however, the impact will be significant and permanently alter how consumers’ privacy is protected across all of social media as we know it.


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