Beloved Pharma TV Commercials


This post is part of our series on creativity in Pharma, where we’ll highlight some of our favorite campaigns, provide case studies on truly innovative marketing techniques, and celebrate a crucial element of this unlikely industry.

By Jason Brandt (@Jasondmg3)

From the Lunesta butterfly to the Pristiq wind-up toy, from the NuvaRing water ballet to the Cialis bathtubs – you, me, Brooke Shields, Sally Field, and the rest of America all know about the potential impact of pharmaceutical commercials.

A little bit of history: the first prescription drug to be advertised on television in the U.S. was a prescription ibuprofen called Rufen, sold by Boots, in 1983. The FDA soon issued a moratorium, though, and the next big TV milestone for pharma wasn’t until 1997, when Claritin hit the commercial break in a big way.

In the beginning (1982), the New York Times‘ Larry Altman even wrote a piece on this startling new trend, calling DTC advertising a “radical departure from traditional practices the bears wide implications for the patient-doctor relationship.” And so it was.

In 2007, looking back at 10 years of broadcast DTC, Medical Marketing & Media’s Matthew Arnold quoted ad exec Anne Devereux: “My personal doctors were really angry with me because I was part of this. One even didnt want to treat me. … [I]t was perceived as a total threat to physician authority.

As the world has shifted and both healthcare professionals and patients have become accustomed to the “ask your doctor about…” tagline, some ads have stood out.

Some are catchy. I bet you, like me, can sing the Detrol “gotta go” jingle. And we can all recognize the Zoloft… well, I’m not sure if he’s a bubble or a rock or a blob, but we can all recognizethe little round sad guy. As another New York Times article noted in 1995: “It makes the struggle for stability downright cute.”

What’s more important, though, is that now, more than a decade into the genre, pharma seems to be hitting its stride and learning how to make television commercials that are more than just salesman stand-ins.

A recent Cymbalta commercial (“where does depression hurt? everywhere. who does depression hurt? everyone.”) featured a piece of music so beautiful that many people searched for it, wondering if it was an arrangement of a Schumann piece, or a clip from a Hollywood score. The music is actually by Bulgarian composer Mario Grigorov, whose music can also be found in the film Precious. Youtube has several videos of pianists who have taught themselves the song by ear because they were so fond of it, including this one, which is commented upon by Grigorov himself. Clearly, going to the trouble to find truly beautiful music, even “just for a commercial,” paid off, creating a remarkably memorable element to the brand’s presentation.

Even more unusual for pharma DTC is the campaign Pfizer launched in Canada. Called “More Than Medication,” it encourages people to care for themselves in ways beyond the pill bottle. Some of the campaign elements, including a video called “Be Brave,” depict the concept in a way that turns traditional pharma advertising on its head.

Do you have a favorite pharma ad? What makes it your favorite? And now…how does your work size up next to these iconic images?




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