STRIKE A NERVE
agency: Unit 7
photo from left: Steve Capp, chief creative officer, copywriter • Mickey Paxton, SVP, group creative director, art director • Jeff Harris, executive creative director • Paul Mellet, executive producer • Ross Quinn, chief collaboration officer
Pain is no laughing matter. But the team at Unit 7 managed to incorporate humor into its unbranded commercial for Pfizer's Lyrica in a way that brought the product closer to patients.
The campaign features the Nerve Man, a nefarious brute who torments diabetes sufferers with shooting, stabbing, burning pain. "People are dealing with this pain day in and day out," says Steve Capp, chief creative officer for Unit 7. "There is a fine line that you walk for anything dealing with pharmaceuticals. People's quality of life is affected, so will the Nerve Man be seen as humorous or are they going to be offended by it? We did our homework; we asked the questions. When we did the testing, people reacted in the right way."
Capp and teammate Mickey Paxton found initial inspiration for the Nerve Man concept in Trilogy of Terror, a series of three campy made-for-TV horror films that aired on ABC in the 1970s. In one of the films, a doll terrorizes actress Karen Black by repeatedly attacking her. While Unit 7 certainly didn't want to make a terrifying commercial, the team did want to communicate the idea of an enemy who can strike at any moment. Enter the Nerve Man.
The audition process was grueling, with nearly 100 actors lining up to get the part. But when the team met Schuler Hensley, they knew they had their man. "He just hit it right on the head and delivered exactly what we were looking for," says Capp. "It's a bit John Belushi, a bit Jack Black, a bit Lou Costello." (Currently, Hensley is appearing on Broadway in a star-making turn as the Monster in the musical Young Frankenstein.) The fact that Hensley is physically imposing also augments the message that diabetic nerve pain truly compromises one's quality of life and can't simply be brushed off as a minor nuisance.