Pharmaceutical Ads Lose the Super Bowl

It’s perhaps the most anticipated night of the year for marketers. The Super Bowl brings beer, great food and of course, the best ads! Can you tell I’m not much of a football fan? But this year, the health industry crumbled under the pressure. Most best and worst recaps I saw, including our own, made mention of the major misstep pharmaceutical companies made when they put their $5 million dollars behind ads like this one from Xifaxan or this one from Jublia. Or, perhaps the worst offender of all, this one about opioid induced constipation. Other recaps just didn’t mention them, which is almost worse. When next to big winners of the night like Doritos and Mountain Dew, they just didn’t compare. Advil was really the only health-related ad that got anywhere close to success, but even it failed to meet the standards of the Super Bowl.

So, where exactly did they go wrong? I believe they made three major mistakes:

1. They didn’t consider their audience.super bowl food

Put yourself in the mind of a Super Bowl watcher for a moment. You’re likely indulging in some wings or nachos while sipping on a beer alongside your friends. Are diarrhea, constipation and toenail fungus really topics you want to be thinking about at the moment? Probably not. You’re looking for the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales or wondering in what commercial your favorite celebrity will appear. And, your expectations are high. Super Bowl is the night for stunts, craziness and hilarity (with maybe a few tear jerkers here and there). When thinking about any kind of marketing, but especially an ad, success is dependent upon thinking through the viewer’s mindset and expectations.


2. They didn’t consider their competition.beyonce

If you are planning to advertise during the Super Bowl, you have to know the competition is going to be fierce – almost as fierce as Beyoncé during the halftime show. You’re going up against HUGE brands with reputations for legendary ads. If you can’t stand out in the crowd, why spend the money? For health brands, there’s a bit of an opportunity because the industry-specific competition is low, but you’ll in turn be compared to the Hyundais and Bud Lights of the world who are less regulated and naturally more consumer-friendly. My recommendation is unless you’re willing (and able) to make a big play, stay off the field.

3. They didn’t consider the consequences.cam newton

If you mess up at the Super Bowl, EVERYONE knows. Just ask Cam Newton! This isn’t just your everyday TV ad – I’m looking at you Advil. Even those of us who fell asleep in the first half heard about the failure of these brands upon watching the news the morning after. Some brands are okay taking that risk. They figure even if they fail miserably, it still creates some buzz, which is all they are really after. I’m not sure pharmaceuticals fall into that bucket. Now, would these ads keep people from buying the product? Probably not. So, the damage wasn’t catastrophic. However, dropping $5 million on a flop seems like a consequence to me.

This begs the question of whether or not the Super Bowl is really the place for health industry ads. For the most part, I’d argue no unless a brand takes on some kind of health issue or cause like Budweiser did. Otherwise, I’d stick to the sidelines.

However, some actually adored the ‘Gut Guy,’ as Xifaxan’s awkward intestine blob has been endearingly named, and he certainly got noticed. After all, Xifaxan will forever be known as that company with the weird commercial where the claymation intestine blob awkwardly holds his bum as he rushes to the bathroom – which may resonate for those with IBSD. If nothing else, they got us talking. So, I’ll let you decide… check out the pharmaceutical ad lineup below and let me know if you think they lost the ad game or, like the Broncos, came out with a victory.

Photo credits: Paste MagazineVogueNBC4i and CBSNews

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