How John Wayne introduced Datril pain reliever back in the 1970s

John Wayne introduced Datril 500 pain reliever (1970s)

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One of the most unusual ad campaigns of the seventies featured gruff Western star John Wayne pitching an over-the-counter pain-relief medicine.

The TV commercial was filmed in Monument Valley, Utah, in late 1976. According to a report in the Boston Globe shortly after the shoot, “The star was incredibly fussy about just how the ad should look, to preserve his image.”

Even all these years later, this marketing campaign is still considered one of the worst celebrity/product match-ups.

Although Wayne apparently later regretted doing the ads, the money — a reported $400,000 for two days’ work — was probably worth the headache.

Datril, as introduced by John Wayne (1977)

“I asked my doctor about taking Datril 500. He said ‘great.’ Ask your doctor.” – John Wayne

As your doctor may tell you, plain aspirin can cause stomach upset. But there is no aspirin at all in Datril and Datril 500.

They contain acetaminophen, which is far less likely to upset the stomach. And they are just as effective against headache.

Extra-Strength Datril 500 is so strong just two tablets contain the same amount of pain reliever as three regular tablets — aspirin or non-aspirin.

Fast-formula Regular Datril contains the same amount of pain reliever as regular Tylenol tablets but gets it into the bloodstream significantly faster.

In studies, on the average, by 10 minutes, 73% more Datril had been delivered into the bloodstream. And, by 20 minutes, Datril still had delivered 38% more. Datril and Datril 500. Why not ask your doctor?

John Wayne for Datril 500 pain reliever (1970s)

John Wayne: When the Duke sells Datril, is he stepping out of character?

By Barry Rohan – Detroit Free Press (Michigan) May 23, 1977

Lloyd Kolmer, who lassoes celebrities for TV commercials from his Manhattan office, thinks that the Old Wagonmaster John Wayne ought to take his headaches like a man.

“What’s John Wayne got to do with a headache remedy?” he asks, and then, answering himself: “He should be selling something manly — an outdoors product… This sort of thing does something wrong for our business.”

This Sort of Thing, of course, is Wayne’s current TV commercial for Datril 500, an aspirin substitute.

TO KOLMER, a middleman who has lined up scores of celebrities to do commercials over the past six years, it looks too much like Wayne is baldly trading on his name to make a buck.

It could be very had for Kolmer’s business if actors and viewers decided that hawking products on TV is an undignified business after all.

Not only that, but Wayne skipped the middleman and made his deal — reportedly for $400,000 — directly with Datril’s manufacturer, Bristol-Myers Co. Obviously that sort of thing could be bad for business, too.

But Kolmer appears to be mostly offended by the financial waste: “Wayne could’ve held out for a while and gotten a million dollars.”

YouTube video

Despite Kolmer’s objections, the Datril-Wayne connection makes thematic sense of a sort. Until recently, Datril and its chief competitor, Tylenol — a product of Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil Laboratories — have been carrying on a Wild West advertising battle that has been the talk of the business.

The fight began two years ago when Datril moved into a relatively obscure field dominated by Tylenol, a non-aspirin pain reliever containing a drug called acetaminophen. The remedy enables a consumer to avoid some of the short-term ill effects, such as stomach upset, suffered by some people who take aspirin.

Until the makers of Datril moved this pain reliever onto the national stage, it had been sold primarily by word-of-mouth and quiet referrals from physicians to their patients.

IN ITS FIRST national TV campaign, the makers of Datril boldly portrayed their product as no different than Tylenol in any way worth mentioning except that it was cheaper.

This head-to-head competitive price advertising, somewhat a novelty on national television, was widely applauded at first. But a price war quickly ensued, the makers of Tylenol filed complaints and the campaign fizzled.

Undaunted, the makers of Datril began to look for differences, launching a new TV appeal last spring with commercials proclaiming that the product “delivers more pain relief faster than Tylenol.”

John Wayne introduced Datril 500 pain reliever

This claim, too, was quickly disputed by Tylenol, and sent for arbitration by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

This time Datril won a somewhat tarnished victory. The self-regulatory group declined to challenge the Datril ads but noted that there currently is no way to prove the implied claim that Datril moving into the bloodstream faster means a faster headache cure.

The makers of Datril then received another slap on the wrist from Advertising Age magazine, which lamented that the promotion of microscopic differences between products could give the advertising industry a bad name with the public.

Undaunted, Datril has continued to run its “faster relief” commercials. And it now appears they have solved the problem of marketing their extra-strength Datril 500 through the simple expedient of having John Wayne order the country to take the stuff. (They apparently reasoned that no one in his right mind would refuse a “suggestion” from the Duke.)

John Wayne and Robert Mitchup in El Dorado movie (1966)
John Wayne and Robert Mitchup in the movie “El Dorado” (1966)

AT THE END of a commercial introduced earlier this year, Wayne peers out from under a battered Western hat and says in a gruff voice, “What more could you ask for — And why don’t you?”

That’s another thing Kolmer doesn’t like about the commercial. It’s too direct and pushy. A celebrity commercial should be more soft-sell, tasteful, subtle, fitting the image, he says.

His favorite is the one where Robert Young (Marcus Welby, M.D.) is sitting in an overstuffed chair in a study, drinking Sanka coffee anti noting that medical authorities say that too much caffeine is bad for you.

“He tells you right out that he’s not a doctor,” Kolmer says. “But you’ve been seeing him as a doctor on TV for years and that has an impact.

“It’s a long way from John Wayne on a horse selling a headache remedy.”

ALSO SEE: John Wayne: How the legendary actor reflected on life at the end of his career

John Wayne, for headache medicine Datril 500 (1977)

“It’s strong medicine for a headache, but gentle on the rest of your system.”

New Datril 500 has 50% more strength than regular aspirin tablets. Yet fast, effective Datril 500 is aspirin-free.

Extra-strength for your headache. Non-aspirin for your stomach.

Vintage John Wayne for Datril 500 pain reliever (1970s)

ALSO SEE: Excedrin: I had a headache THIS big… (1985)

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