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Nightmare before Xmas

Chris Duncan from Pulsar Healthcare Communications pulls gifts from his Santa sack for the best ads this month

A man in profile holding a skull x-ray in front of his headIt's the time of year to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus, to decorate your inverted black Christmas trees and hang out your stockings. Santa's on his way and those ads that have been good this year will get their deserved presents. But what of the ads that have been bad? Those turkeys are in for a stuffing!

After more than a few years of working in this business, I continue to labour to birth good ideas, and I enjoy the challenge, but there can be complications, internally and externally. An ad doesn't always end up how you originally imagined it. However, this is no excuse for bad art direction; you can still make a pretty baby.

So, lots of gifts for the teams that have been good this year, but for the others, this may be a bit of a Tim Burton nightmare!


PEGASYS – Hepatitis

Pegasys hepatitis advert


The Pegasys Hepatitis ad is certainly an eye-catcher. It's nice to see there are still some budgets out there to enable some model-making and photography, instead of using stock libraries (please tell me this isn't a computer-generated image). The art direction dramatises the problem and the background has been kept blank, which helps the complicated image stand out like a piece of installation art. The mouse population must be thriving near this photographer's studio as so many mousetraps have been used in this image. I think the headline could have been just a strapline, thereby letting the image speak for itself but, saying that, the typeface is worth showing off.

A gift wrapped presentA gift wrapped presentA gift wrapped presentA gift wrapped present Four presents


CLENIL – Asthma

This ad takes me back to when I first started working in healthcare after coming from a consumer background. I think healthcare advertising really should have moved on from this sort of entry-level thinking. 'Time to change' as a headline and an image of athletes passing a baton. Mmm, let me think… I wonder how long it took to come up with this idea? The typography is heavy-handed, the silhouettes look strange and using the brand colour in the shot is unattractive. Yes, all the information is on the page, but does this ad really engage the audience?

Clenil asthma advert

Sorry, just a piece of coal for you this Christmas

  A piece of coal

VESICARE – Overactive bladder

Vesicare - overactive bladder advert

Yes, I get the idea here; the lady in the foreground in her brand-coloured dress is stuck in a traffic jam of gondolas; she's isolated and away from any toilets, but she is relaxed because her overactive bladder is controlled. I think this is a case where there may have been budget constraints because the execution is poor and the Photoshop work stands out like a bad Christmas jumper. Maybe it would have been better to look for a different method to get the idea across if the purse strings were too tight for a location shoot. However, I can't help but think there is a more creative way to illustrate a positive response to this problem.

  A gift wrapped presentA gift wrapped present Two presents


YASMIN – Oral contraceptive

I work with nine women and I asked them if they had been talking about Yasmin, and they all said no (OK, cheap shot!) This ad is not unpleasant to look at. Using the brand colour for the photography gives the ad a brand identity and a feminine feel. But, again, I think the idea that women are all talking about this pill could have been explored more, rather than just showing happy, smiley females. An opportunity missed.

Yasmin oral contraceptive advert

Two presents

A gift wrapped presentA gift wrapped present

BIO-OIL – Scar and stretch reduction

Bio-Oil scar and stretch reduction advert This takes an image of an optician's eye test chart. OK, I've seen it used for a headline before, but in this case it's being used away from the ophthalmology field. Showing the reduction of scarring and stretch marks without actually showing them – I'm all for that. At least this ad makes the reader work a bit to get the idea. This is a tidy ad, showing a good eye for typography and with the logo stripped out and simply included on the pack.
   A gift wrapped presentA gift wrapped presentA gift wrapped present

Three presents



Not one for the portfolio! I don't know where to look on this ad. The elements seem to have been tossed on the page like a witch doctor throwing down his bag of bones.
There doesn't seem to be any balance or flow and type sizes and graphics are fighting with each other for dominance. Spare me the history lesson – I get it: a modern classic plus a new strength. Again, this idea's not great. It's passable, but lacking in art direction and it is being asked to communicate too much information.

Glucophage Sr advert

One present

A gift wrapped present

The Author
Chris Duncan is creative director at Pulsar Healthcare Communications
To comment on this article, email

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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21st December 2009


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