The creation of Buckley’s Original Mixture was a classic case of recognizing a good thing. When pharmacist William Knapp Buckley took over a Toronto drugstore in 1919, he discovered several natural ingredients used in the treatment of coughs and colds. W.K. recognized the ingredients' merits and combined them to create a unique and effective remedy, which he called Buckley’s Original Mixture. Never one to hesitate in the face of opportunity, he formed W.K. Buckley Limited on March 20, 1920 and began marketing his product
Pioneering Marketing Strategies
Realizing the power of catchy copy and smart media buying, W.K. concentrated his efforts on print and radio advertising to sell his product. Considering this was an era when advertising was a relatively new and poorly understood phenomenon, W.K. was ahead of his time. As his son, Frank Buckley, pointed out "My father was first and foremost a born salesman." Frank Buckley believed that smart use of national radio in the early days of broadcasting was a key factor in building the business and establishing Buckley's as a household name.
The 1920s was a period of rapid growth at W.K. Buckley Limited with new products being introduced and distributed throughout Canada. Despite this growth, W.K.'s Drugstore in Toronto remained the headquarters for development of new products, including products outside the cough & cold category.
When the Great Depression hit, many of the secondary products were discontinued and W.K. Buckley Limited went back to what it did best: cough & cold preparations. During the Depression, the company introduced a smaller size of Buckley's Original Mixture, priced at a more manageable 40 cents to help consumers through those lean years. It was during this period that W.K. introduced his "medicine chest in a jar," Buckley's White Rub.
With the success the company was having in Canada, W.K. decided to expand his horizons by taking Buckley’s Original Mixture to the Global Market. Buckley's was introduced in the United States and the Caribbean in the late 30s, and in New Zealand, Australia and Holland by the 40s.
After he returned from World War II where he served as a lieutenant with the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, W.K.'s son, Frank Buckley, joined the family business as a salesman. With a Bachelor's of Commerce, finance degree and a fascination with anything mathematical, Frank began to apply modern financial concepts and practices to the running of the business. With W.K.'s entrepreneurial energy and Frank's financial skills, father and son made a formidable team.
Facing New Challenges
By the 60s, it was clear that pharmacies were changing rapidly. The pharmaceutical industry saw the transition from small individually owned drugstores to drug supermarkets. Another change was the discovery of advertising by the other traditional pharmaceutical companies. The pioneering marketing and creative advertising strategies that had made Buckley's so successful and unique among the rest of the category were now being used by everyone. Buckley's no longer held that creative competitive edge. As a result, sales began sliding.
Frank Buckley realized something had to be done. In the early 80s, the company decided on what he called, "the back to basics" strategy. Put simply, radio and print media had built the business, so Buckley's would use it to build it again.
The Bad Taste Campaign
After much discussion, it was agreed that Buckley’s Original Mixture possessed two strong characteristics: lousy taste and tremendous efficacy. Using these two characteristics, they produced an award-winning advertising campaign that made Buckley’s Original Mixture and Frank Buckley household names in Canada.
The campaign-slogan was "It tastes awful. And it works." In 1986, the first transit ads featuring Frank Buckley quipping, "I came by my bad taste honestly - I inherited it from my father" and "I wake up with nightmares that someone gives me a taste of my own medicine," ran nationally. The company's simple, honest and humorous approach to advertising helped attract much attention and praise, but more importantly, new users.
The "bad taste" campaign increased the company's market share over 10% in the Canadian cough & cold category. They also successfully implemented this campaign in the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S.