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Ad Lib blog

Creative critiques of pharma and healthcare ads and campaigns

Wit and Visual Intrigue

In the melee and rush of social media, how are print ads faring? Not especially well, suggests Reg Manser, who finds three made him look twice.

One of the definitions of a great ad is that it makes you think or makes you smile. Making you think about a brand and consider its place in your repertoire of choices is the highest aim of any campaign – and very few achieve it. Making you smile at an ad doesn't just mean using humour to get laughs – it means creating a 'smile in the mind', by using wit to entertain the reader and subvert their expectations. But again, many ads are witless, or use misfired humour that only provokes a cringe.

A great ad should also, of course, make you look, because unless it grabs your attention, the content is irrelevant. So the primary function of any ad is to capture your visual interest. Yet so much advertising is simply wallpaper, or a namecheck for the brand. Whether this is due to lack of ambition or lack of ability is a matter for debate. But it is surprising, when there are so many channels clamouring for attention, that most healthcare ads aim so low.

I scanned the latest journals to find some exceptions.

Fostair – Chiesi



Fostair – Chiesi

Agency: Swordfish

There aren’t many thought-provoking campaigns built around a single differentiating idea. And it has become passé to focus on anything as workmanlike as a USP or a unique value proposition. The emphasis now is on tone of voice and engaging the reader in a dialogue, even if it isn’t about the brand.

But the unusual visual execution of this ad made me look twice, and the visual style (a grainy monochrome image) succeeded in highlighting the key differentiator: the fine particles that make up the product. Not a great ad, but one that made me think – and learn – a little bit about the brand.

Lipitor – Pfizer



Lipitor – Pfizer

Agency: TBWA\Paling Walters

True wit is a rare commodity in healthcare advertising, though there are shining examples from the past such as Tritace with the ‘save the’ (whale, walrus, penguins, etc) campaign (agency: Lowe Azure) in the late 1990s and more recently the Idrolax ‘toilet’ series by Woolley Pau

But how do you manage a smile when your brand is about to fall off the patent expiry cliff? This ad for Lipitor is disarmingly honest about the life-threatening event facing the brand, which is even more predictable than death or taxes.

The ad itself is also linked via a QR code to a video explaining (with some nice visual wit) how doctors can take evasive action to reduce CV risk for their patients, and help stop Lipitor driving off the cliff. But would it work so well without the help of the digital element?

Simtomax – Tillotts Pharma UK



Simtomax – Tillotts Pharma UK

Agency: ICC Lowe London

It’s brave to feature a bland image that makes no mention of the product, just a QR code. But this creates intrigue and draws you in to an AR talking-head commercial viewed on your smartphone.

Is this just a fleeting piece of opportunism, using the latest technology to grab attention? Yes, undoubtedly. And in a year’s time it may seem outdated and naff.

But at the moment it achieves the aim of capturing our interest, informing us about the product, and raising a smile (watch how the beard grows to illustrate passing time). A short-lived gimmick perhaps, but I wish I’d thought of it.

And that is the final test of a good ad – something you wish you’d done yourself.

Article by
Reg Manser

Creative Director, Life Healthcare Communications

20th April 2012


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