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Ad Lib blog

Creative critiques of pharma and healthcare ads and campaigns

Avoiding the issue

It’s three low (one-star) scores from Dave Trott as he kicks off this new Ad Lib series. Find out what he feels so strongly about…

Two young boys are playing in the street. Suddenly one boy spots a box of tampons lying on the ground. He rushes over and picks it up. “What do you want that for?” says the other boy.

The first boy says “Haven't you seen the adverts? If you use these things you can go water-skiing, scuba diving, hang-gliding, horse riding, and mountain climbing.”

That joke refers to how patronising most people find most advertising.

You see ad agencies assume people aren't interested in the rational, just the emotional. So most ads don't talk about the facts, just the fantasy. I would have thought the one place you really ought to be talking about facts was pharmaceutical advertising. After all, you're talking to doctors.

I would have thought the one place you ought not to be patronising, was talking to doctors. But most medical advertising seems to fall into two patronising categories. The happy, carefree future after treatment, or basic, visual metaphors.

Why is that? Surely we only have to look at the media the ads are running in to see that doctors are unshockable. Medical mags are full of detailed photographs of growths, infections, wounds, and surgery. The editorial comment seems to accept that doctors are intelligent, rational people. So why is the advertising so patronising?

A doctor is presented with a problem and he needs to offer a solution.

Obviously he's reading medical magazines because he's open to information about better solutions. Why doesn't any of the advertising show that information simply and powerfully? Why does most of the advertising look as if it's done for a disinterested audience?

Why do we need to patronise doctors?




The first category: a Disneyesque happy-ending, depicting the carefree future after treatment.

In this case, it allows the woman to ride in a gondola in Venice. Apparently this needs to be portrayed because otherwise a doctor won’t understand what relieving the symptoms of an overactive bladder means. If I was a doctor I’d want information. How does it differ from other treatments? Is it cheaper, faster, easier to take, more readily available, does it last longer? I’d want to know why should I prescribe or recommend it.




The second category: basic visual metaphors.

Usually the word ‘balance’ depicted by a set of scales, the word ‘target’ by an arrow in a bullseye. In this case a stroke depicted by a lightning strike.

I think a doctor would know what a stroke was without a metaphor. Plus which, the reason to prescribe or recommend this product is more complicated. One in six strokes happen to people with an abnormal heart rhythm. And they tend to be more serious.

The visual doesn’t depict that, metaphorically or otherwise.




This ad combines both the previous categories.

The visual (a key) is a metaphor for the word ‘unlock’ (geddit?). And the figures depict the happy, carefree life after treatment.

While all this is going on, there is a small yellow box saying ‘A new class in pain relief’. Why isn’t that the story? Apparently this is mainly for people with ‘severe chronic pain’ who can’t get relief from other painkillers.

I think a doctor want solutions. Why should they prescribe this solution?

If we can claim ‘a new class of pain relief’ shouldn’t we tell them why?

Article by
Dave Trott

executive creative director, CST The Gate Health

8th September 2011


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