Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Ad Lib blog

Creative critiques of pharma and healthcare ads and campaigns

Tales of the Unexpected

Stephanie Berman reckons Roald Dahl’s storytelling can teach us much about creating ‘the unexpected’ and inspiring action

I'm a big Roald Dahl fan. Like all great storytellers, he didn't shy away from the unexpected — he embraced it.
Dahl was haunted by the thought that with every paragraph, a reader's interest might be lost. “That's why,” he explained, “I often try to create severe tension among the characters so that, hopefully, every reader will be compelled to go on reading or the viewer to go on viewing.”

While we want our readers to go on reading and our viewers to go on viewing, severe tension is a tough sell in healthcare advertising. An idea with tension makes your palms sweat before you present it. It makes your clients nervous. It can be polarising with physicians. In an increasingly risk-averse environment, severe tension seems like the last thing we need.

So most ideas end up treading the expected path. They certainly don't offend anyone (unless you count splenetic reviewers). Neither do they truly demand attention, shift behavior, inspire action.

For that, Dahl was right. You need tension, challenge, surprise. You need the unexpected.

I pick my nose



This multichannel campaign shows kids — and their parents — picking their noses for their annual flu vaccine. Gross, you‘d think. Instead, it’s cute, memorable, and delightfully unexpected.

The kids are lovely, the adults less so. (To be fair, delivering product benefits and fair balance while remaining perkily in character is tough to pull off.) That said, the insight behind the idea is universal — for parents, kids, and HCPs, flu vaccines aren’t associated with avoiding the flu, they’re associated with the drama of wrestling hysterical children to the ground in the doctor’s office. It’s so much easier to pick your nose instead.

Live in my skin



Unsettling and thought-provoking, this online video series challenges physician attitudes head-on. An unbranded psoriasis awareness initiative, it follows three dermatologists, who “thanks to the magic of Hollywood makeup” are given psoriasis plaques to wear as they go about their day.

The tone is a little too Entertainment Channel, but it still hits hard. As they meet with repulsion and fear, the doctors start to appreciate the heavy burden of the disease.

There’s not a scrap of data in sight. But I bet it shifted behaviour.

Mean stinks



OK, this one isn’t so much ‘health’, but I thought I’d sneak it in under ‘wellness’.

It’s for underarm deodorant aimed at teens, and this being the US, you might expect to see glossy-haired, cheerleader types surrounded by attractive friends. Instead, this campaign from Secret takes a more honest look at the teen experience, encouraging girls to stand up to what stinks — bullying.

Secret’s promise is to help women “live fearlessly”, and it embraces causes that go way beyond deodorant. Shows where you can go when you have a product without real differentiation —don’t duke it out over efficacy, take the higher ground.

Article by
Stephanie Berman

Partner, creative The CementBloc

30th November 2011


Subscribe to our email news alerts

Featured jobs


Add my company
dna Communications

Healthcare communications with unique thinking, insight and attitude...

Latest intelligence

Biosimilars and beyond: innovating for improved patient outcomes
How Europe’s biosimilar landscape has rapidly evolved over the last two decades, bringing biological medicines to more patients than ever before...
World Cancer Day 2023 – closing the gaps in cancer care to give more patients access to life-changing medicines
Great Expectations – exploring the counterpoint between advances in oncology and the challenges of ensuring life-changing medicines reach patients...
Strategic behaviour
Strong strategising depends on your colleagues’ behaviour...