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Inspired by greatness

Brian Johnson, copy chief at MJL Advertising, praises the healthcare ads he thinks would have pleased the legendary Bill Bernbach

Inspired by greatnessBill Bernbach, one of the three founders of Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), was a legendary figure in the history of American advertising. He directed the "Think Small" campaign for Volkswagen Beetle, which is recognised by Advertising Age as the top advertising campaign of the 20th Century.

Bernbach said: "If you want to know what makes DDB ads, we have no formula. We have no formula at all. The only common denominator in our ads is that each one has a fresh idea. We present the story in a fresh and original way. Now you can be fresh in many directions. I have no rules for people. I just want them to do what comes naturally to them, but to do it in an effective way. So that they're doing their own thing, but they're doing it in a sharp and disciplined way to make it work."

With this in mind, I thought that instead of looking at poor advertising, I would choose work that I would have been proud to be involved in (and hopefully Bill would have approved of). I went up to our media department (Jane) and got her to load me up with recent healthcare journals. I looked through about 30 journals to find five ads that I like.


BUTRANS — Osteoarthritis

Butrans advertisement

Many people have tried to visualise the difficulty of getting upstairs with arthritis or angina but, in my opinion, none has pulled it off quite as well as this recent ad. The image is arresting. You want to spend longer on the page. The art director has even made a good job of making the prescribing information look neat and tidy.

On the subject of prescribing information, at an ABPI Code of Practice training day I asked Heather Simmonds what the point was of cluttering up our ads with prescribing information when nobody was ever going to read it. "It's the law," she retorted. That put me in my place and I didn't ask her any more questions.

The heady heights of success


ECZMOL — Infected atopic eczema

I've seen this kind of little and large image before, usually as a cat with a shadow of a lion or tiger. But I love the lilac background colours, which seem soothing and very relevant to an emollient. The headline is nice and simple and the body copy is easy to read. The double page spread helps cut the prescribing information down to size so that it doesn't impinge on the branding. I wish more clients would opt for double page spreads. If you want to big up your brand, big up your ads.

Eczemol advertisement 



LIPITOR — Reducing cholesterol

Lipitor advertisement

This is part of a series of ads that denote pure brand leadership. You don't see many ads in black and white, but it really works well here. The people depicted in this series look real, and the picture and copy exude confidence. Who could ask for anything more?


On the crest of the wave


BETESIL — Inflammatory skin disorders

When you're flicking through a dermatology magazine you expect to see a lot of unsightly images. Then you come across this little gem of an ad. It makes you want to laugh. Surely that's not a bad thing. It reminds me of those birthday cards you choose because they have an unexpected element to them. Imagine trying to sell this, first to an account handler and then to the client whose first response might be: "Are you having a laugh?"

Fortunately, the creative and account handling team stood their ground and ended up running a cracking ad.

 Betesil advertisement

The cream of the crop


Symbicort advertisement

I have to confess that I go fishing so I'm somewhat drawn to images that focus on this subject. But there's more to this ad than the elegant illustration. The headline suggests expanding the airways to help patients get more out of life — not a bad promise.


Angling for victory



Brian Johnson
The Author
Brian Johnson is copy chief at MJL Advertising

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Ad Lib is a creative critique of healthcare ads and does not take into account the marketing objectives behind the campaigns reviewed.


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26th July 2010


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