Varnish Remover

Growing Pains

That’s My Boy, produced by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising for Adult Tylenol.

The strategy animating That’s My Boy, produced by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising for Adult Tylenol, is simple: Capitalize on the clichéd but timely football motif to appeal directly to the men among the 129 million viewers of the Super Bowl broadcast. At the same time, reach out to women–who buy the pills and stock the medicine cabinet–by cleverly deconstructing the macho stereotype so that it becomes familiar, funny.

The idea seems to have worked: The ad emerged as one of the Super Bowl broadcast’s 10 most successful, according to USA Today’s people meter, a hand-held dial that registered the second-by-second reaction of a sample of 139 consumers. And it fared particularly well with women, who placed it in the top five.

The spot opens with an overweight father clearly looking to realize his old dreams vicariously through his son. Dad knows that the key to success lies in the early start he did not get, that only the savvy fledgling gets the worm. So he’s willing to go to bat for his boy: “Now, we got a lot of work to do before the next game,” he tells the perfectly–and expensively–attired aspirant. “But I’m with you.” His support, the son’s almost weary “OK, Dad” suggests, is a dubious privilege.

The second scene shows Dad holding the ball for a place kick. The setting, complete with Norman Rockwell backyard and white picket fence, is perfect. It invites nostalgia, stirs memories of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet or, for parents born a generation later, The Partridge Family, when … ouch! Junior’s mighty kick makes sharp contact with Dad’s foot.

Undaunted, the self-appointed coach keeps his post, showing his charge how to throw the ball, then going out for a pass. “I’m open,” he yells. Sure he is–there’s no one else on the field. But wait–here’s a hedge, scourge of the less-than-fleet-of-foot. Awkward, klutzy, Dad trips. As before, it’s the father who’s been hurt, the son who expresses concern. “Dad, you OK?” The father’s response (“Yeah, fine,” when he’s clearly not) and the next two scenes (a flurry of action, then a shot of him flat on his face) suddenly clarify the spot’s real target. It’s the woman, of course, who, seeing her own frustrated sportsman in the prone figure on the field, smiles as she turns up the dial on the ad meter. She knows that Dad will try something he shouldn’t, that he will stub his toe, that he will complain, and that she will have to give him something to stop the pain.

The rout continues, a blind-side tackle eliciting a wheezy “Nice tackle, son,” followed by a close-up of the clearly pumped-up kid. The duo runs toward us, with Dad puffing, struggling to keep up, then finally gesturing for a timeout. We get a commercial break within the commercial, the voice-over telling us that “the best moments in life sometimes come with a few aches and pains.” A shot of the Tylenol box and a glass of water accompanies the first mention of the product. The contrast with past aspirin and Tylenol ads is striking. No pain-wracked headache sufferers here. No irradiative blue waves pulsating to pounding music. This is a happy ad for a pain reliever so effective that, as we see in the next scenes, it can help you smile through a broken arm.

And for all the kidding he’s taken, Dad gets his payoff. The scene moves to the real world of real players and real coaches, and our footballer, still wearing his No. 11 jersey, seems to be holding his own: “Your little guy’s looking pretty good out there,” says an approving coach. The dad is studiously blasé: “Yeah, well,” he says. “We’ve been practicing.”

The game over, father and son walk away from us, satisfied. The little guy in the big shirt gets a pat on the head from Dad: “Hey, that was a good game, buddy.” The Tylenol name appears at the bottom of the screen in a strong but unobtrusive red. A perfect end to a perfect day. Dad’s been injured, sure, but his pride is intact, his love for his son papering over his shortcomings as a coach. Mom’s still smiling, struck by the warmth and familiarity of this scene–and, the ad makers hope, she’s still turning up the dials and buying up the Tylenol.

–Robert Shrum