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Merck’s Latest Shot Against Shingles


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-05-01-2017
Volume 37
Issue 5

New DTC campaign for its vaccine Zostavax uses a more serious, personal messaging approach-as pharmas look to close the conversation gaps between patients and healthcare providers.

Merck and Co.’s  recently launched, direct-to-consumer (DTC) television campaign for its shingles vaccine Zostavax sees a deliberate change in tone, with the company trying to connect with patients “on a more personal and emotive level.” Pharm Exec spoke to Patrick Bergstedt, head of global marketing at Merck Vaccines, about  how the campaign evolved and has been received.

PE:How did the creative process differ from others for the new Zostavax campaign, and why?

 Bergstedt: This ad follows a cascade of disease awareness ads through a variety of media channels that we have created since 2012. These ads were very effective in educating consumers about shingles and encouraging conversations with their healthcare providers (HCPs) about their risk for shingles.

Patrick Bergstedt

 Our last DTC campaign featured NFL analyst and former quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who was a great spokesperson. He brought a lot of pizzazz and personality to our shingles awareness efforts.

 However, based on research we conducted, we know gaps remain in the conversations taking place between consumers and HCPs. When our team looked at our communication efforts for 2016, we asked: “How do we improve coverage rates; how do we improve education; how do we improve awareness; and, finally, how do we improve people taking action against a preventable disease?”

 We want to do our best to stimulate a full discussion on the vaccine and the disease to help to ensure that patients’ questions are answered. Closing the conversation gap is where we think using branded messaging around the only, currently approved, one-shot shingles vaccine Zostavax comes best into play. We felt that it was time to become a little more serious in our look and our messaging and really get through to people to say to them, “take action.”

PE:Did you feel it was a risk to evoke an ominous tone in the TV ad?

Bergstedt: This is certainly a deliberate change in tone, but we don’t see it as a risk. We are trying to connect at a different level, at more of a personal and emotive level, because of the seriousness of the disease and the fact that it is a preventable disease. Out of all the commercials we tested at Merck, the ads featuring “Linda,” the central character of the campaign, achieved the best feedback when tested with the target demographic.

 Linda represents an everyday person who’s trying to do what she loves doing. A normal healthy person like her is at risk and this disease can be prevented with the only vaccine available to help prevent it-a vaccine that was approved by the FDA more than 10 years ago.

I think the message from the ad that should resonate with people is the realization, “I am at risk and if I don’t get vaccinated this disease could really impact my life.”

 The purpose of the voice-over was to add a more personal appeal speaking to the individual. An appeal that says, “you are at risk, please take action.” It’s more of a human touch, and it’s much more direct. I believe the actor who did the voice-over did a fantastic job at conveying that tone and message. 

PE:What has the reaction been to the campaign so far?

Bergstedt: Given that shingles can be a very painful experience, we have received numerous unsolicited letters of appreciation from consumers, who, unfortunately, suffered through shingles. In these letters, these consumers shared their own stories and appreciated the education we are providing to the market. And, so far, the initial results have shown an increase in vaccination rates.

PE: Would you feel confident taking this approach with other disease areas?

BergstedT: There is no question that vaccination rates for relevant disease categories are low among seniors and adults. I think the initial success of this year’s DTC efforts for Zostavax have taught us to take a more serious approach, striving to achieve stronger physician recommendations and driving consumers to take action has been effective. This is certainly something we will consider in future campaigns for our vaccine portfolio.

The Zostavax TV ad can be viewed here.


Julian Upton is Pharm Exec’s European and Online Editor. He can be reached at julian.upton@ubm.com


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