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Ad Lib blog

Creative critiques of pharma and healthcare ads and campaigns


Hotfoot from seeing Madonna at the New York Superbowl, Stephanie Berman gives us some inspired thoughts on the power of branding

New York has been in the grip of Superbowl fever this week. It was the big game last Sunday, and the New York Giants prevailed over the New England Patriots. Watercooler conversations were abuzz Monday morning, with much excitement and hot debate. Not about the game, I should point out, but about Madonna's half-time show.

Love her or loathe her, you had to admit that the old girl was looking pretty good. She lip-synced perfectly, danced in very sprightly fashion, and put on a pretty spectacular production. I was particularly taken with the video stage – at eye level, it looked like any old flashing dance floor. But viewed from above, it provided delicious eye candy for the thousands of folks seated way up high in the nosebleed seats.

As I said, the following morning she owned the conversation. And it got me thinking — this is the power of an icon.

I have had a troubled relationship with icons of late. Many, many clients still hold them dear, and specifically ask you to deliver the perfect visual metaphor for their brand. It's particularly the case on global brands, where it could be argued that an icon communicates everything you need to know without the fetters of language.

But in our multi-channel, multi-stakeholder, multi-faceted world, an icon can be terribly limiting. In the pharma space, they are usually static and two-dimensional. They rarely generate an emotional connection, of the kind needed to stimulate ongoing conversation about a brand. And without a truly unique feature or benefit to spur original thinking, way too many icons are trite, expected, and grossly overused.

But, as Madonna reminded me, icons really can endure. Those that endure best evolve, to engage dimensionally with a new kind of audience. For most people in the Superbowl crowd, Madonna would have been a tiny dot on a faraway stage. On her video stage however, she could reach out and connect.

So, next time an icon goes on the wall, I will put it through a new filter. Could it still impress people afresh, 53 years into its lifecycle? If it's a 'yes', then I'm sold.

ARCOXIA - Floats Pain Away - MSD



At first glance, I was appalled. A hammer? For pain? Come on, it’s so been done before. But then you notice the little balloon end, the barely-there white string, and the copy line. And surprise, delight, and “I wish I’d done that” kick in.

If you’re going to do a hammer, or a boxing glove, or an hourglass, it had better be the best damn hammer, boxing glove, or hourglass the world has ever seen.
In its effortless combination of problem and solution, this hammer comes pretty close. It delivers a truly memorable twist. It is beautifully executed; restrained and sophisticated. I can imagine the market research feedback: “Oh, I didn’t see the string at first”. ”Can you make it look more like a balloon?” “It might be quicker if we could see the patient holding it.” Kudos to the client and the agency that they didn’t cave. It might not hit you over the head immediately (no pun intended), but it’s so much stronger for it.

Roll Up Your Sleeves Japan - Novartis



Here’s a living, breathing, interactive icon that charms, cajoles, and humors you into getting your blood pressure checked.

A multi-dimensional campaign, it promoted blood pressure awareness among middle-aged, Japanese businessmen. The ad campaign, web experience, and trainjack promotion all drove towards Blood Pressure Awareness Day. On the day itself, a human blood pressure monitor featured men suspended from the side of a skyscraper. As people got their blood pressure checked, the men were raised and lowered to display their reading, for the gathering crowd to see.

In its entirety, it’s an impressive campaign. But the human blood pressure monitor is the real grabber, turning an uninspiring diagnostic tool into an icon that’s memorable, and more importantly, motivating.

Micardis - Boehringer Ingelheim



This idea also addresses the problem of high blood pressure. By contrast with Roll Up Your Sleeves Japan, it’s hackneyed, ill-differentiated from a strategic perspective, and seems entirely devoid of insight into either the physician or the patient experience.

Featuring rampaging horses looking suspiciously like a blood clot, it relies on a ‘blood pressure run wild’ metaphor. The best I can say is that it provides us with a great example of why icons, and animal icons in particular, should be approached with extreme caution.

Animals can work in advertising. The Duracell Bunny has been banging the same old drum for donkey’s years. And Tony the Tiger is still persuading kids to ingest way more sugar than can be good for them by way of frosted flakes at breakfast time.

But these are the exception. So please, let’s agree to an industry-wide cull of any but the most exceptional animal icons. It’s the humane thing to do.

Article by
Stephanie Berman

Partner, creative The CementBloc

15th February 2012


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