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Sing it out loud! 5 lessons to master from DTC pharma ads


Brand Insights - Thought Leadership | Paid Program

Brian Conrad
Copy Supervisor
The Agency Network at MJH Life Sciences

Brian Conrad
Copy Supervisor
The Agency Network at MJH Life Sciences

At a recent gathering among friends, the topic of TV drug advertising came up. Soon each partygoer was attempting to up-stage the others by belting out—a cappella and far off-key—their favorite song from drug commercials. It was a sign of the times: Pharmaceutical advertising is having its moment.

Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical TV advertising has rapidly grown during the past 25+ years and is now the most prominent type of health communication seen. I confirmed this by logging onto YouTube, where the algorithm served me up one toe-tapping pharma spot after another. More official numbers came from Fierce Pharma, who reported at the end of last year that pharma TV ad spending grew 8% in 2022, reaching a total of $4.05 billion.

Hitting all the high notes

Pharma ads aren’t traditionally what you would consider party conversation. (Most things with a scrolling list of side effects and precautions aren’t.) Unlike advertising for consumer goods, we have a few more regulations to consider in our creative.

Today’s pharma TV is bright, buzzy, and a bop. Here are 5 simple things you can do to make your next brand campaign sing!

1. Move to the beat

A recent report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association crowned pickleball—think of a mashup of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong—“the fastest growing sport in America.” As someone who’s into racquet sports, you can imagine my surprise to find pickleball featured in an Ozempic ad last year.

Their choice accomplished 2 goals. By picking up on a growing trend in popular culture, the ad is able to capture the attention of a large audience. Secondly, it reinforces the product by featuring a sport that suits the lifestyle of the patient.

2. Feel the emotion

A good ad isn’t something you see. It’s something you feel. The best consumer ads tap into the authentic emotions of their patients. It’s more than empathizing with their condition; it’s empowering who they are.

One effective Biktarvy ad opens on a woman who states, “I’m a transgender woman and my dream was always to be loved and accepted.” Right from the start, the focus is on her, not the product. Before consumers see your product, they have to see themselves.

3. Keep everything in perfect harmony

Our products are Serious Business about Serious Issues. That’s why today’s ads are overflowing with life—including interesting shapes and textures, bright colors that feel optimistic and hopeful, and diverse talent who reflect today’s consumer. In one Humira spot, “Your Wake-Up Call,” the lighting shifts from dingy grays and yellows to full-color wow, underscoring life before and after treatment.

4. Just have fun with it

Our world is grounded in medical science, highlighted by efficacy data from clinical studies, and driven by a mechanism of action. It’s a must-have, but is it a must-watch? You should seek out creative opportunities elsewhere—with recurring characters, clever headlines, humor (when appropriate), and, yes, songs! Dupixent tells consumers to “Du More,” turning the product name into a pithy call-to-action.

Present critical information like charts and graphs, study endpoints, and adverse events plainly and clearly. But don’t miss the opportunities to strive for provocative and engaging consumer-advertising techniques.

5. Turn up the volume

If you’ve got the budget, go for the earworm. You can license a popular song—like the advertisers for Anoro have done with Go your own way by Fleetwood Mac. Or take a popular song and spin the lyrics, as Ozempic did with Magic by 70s pop group, Pilot, to get to “Oh-Oh-Oh Ozempic.” These tunes work because they repurpose cultural references to better blend in with real living versus living in a TV-drug ad.

“But do you know the ad I really like?

That’s your new goal: not just to get in front of consumer eyeballs, but to get them humming along with you. Even better… To really like you.

Sound too hard? Think again. It’s already happening. Creativity in pharma advertising is flourishing, as evidenced by the proliferation and popularity of ads that take Rx to Rx-cellent in online and TV media.

Who knows? If you follow these simple consumer practices, maybe customers will be singing your tune next. Or better yet, singing your praises.