Concept Diagnosis

Taking the pulse of the worst & best in healthcare advertising

Tag: cliche

Beware of Paper Tigers – Their Cut is Worse Than Their Bite

In the world of healthcare advertising, if you can think it, it’s probably already been done. Make sure to do your homework because even the most uncommon ideas, like say…origami animals, have been unfolding in pharma for years, becoming yet another cliché.

AMITIZA1AMITIZA2AMITIZA (lubiprostone) is a treatment for chronic idiopathic constipation. It increases fluid secretion in the intestines, which increases intestinal movement, which helps make it easier to have bowel movements. This MOA seems to be represented in their logo, a tight blockade of rectangles that start to dissipate and turn into flying birds. If there is one brand in pharma that has the rational excuse to use origami in their marketing, it would probably be AMITIZA. Those rectangles become paper transforming into origami birds, which is exactly what we find in a 2007 ad. Here, the AMITIZA bird is made of green branded paper singing branded paper musical notes. In the AMITIZA convention booth, the origami icon comes to life above its audience.

SeroquelThis 2012 ad for SEROQUEL (quetiapine) from Australia bears a strong resemblance to the AMITIZA birds, this time with flying origami crane. Yes five years have passed, yes it’s on a continent on the other side of the world, yes it’s in a different therapeutic category, but why would you still use an icon that is strongly tied to another global pharmaceutical brand? Maybe they should have created origami jailbirds because it’s a crime!

Picture 44A 2010 ad for SANDOSTATIN (octreotide) and a Portuguese ad for PEGASYS (peginterferon alfa-2a) are almost identical. Both use printed clinical data to create their origami animals, a rhino for SANDOSTATIN and the iconic Pegasus for PEGASYS. The PEGASYS headline reads “Clinical studies and a lot of research transformed into life.”origami_pegasys_42x30_02_o_905 The big question is, which one would win in a fight, the rhino or the mythical Pegasus?

ZPAKThe brand that did it first and probably the best using paper sculptures, was ZITHROMAX (azithromycin) promoting the Z-Pak in 2002. Not only did it emphasize its excellent efficacy using animal predators, but created them using the purple Z-Pak packaging. The Z-Pak was a unique marriage of dosing regimen and marketing. Even today, patients still request Z-Paks from their physicians. Hopefully no fingers were harmed or cut creating these ads.

It’s a constant battle of creative wits to be original, not only when you’re competing internally with other creative teams for the big idea, but competing with creative healthcare history….just be careful you’re not repeating it.

Don’t Pull That Cliché Ripcord…until the last possible moment!

When you’re making that creative leap, your first few rounds of creative should always avoid the expected pharma metaphors and clichés. Only as a last resort, after the client has rejected 101 brilliant concepts, is it appropriate (yet painful) to pull your metaphor safety cord.

Here are three global ads that use parachutes as their visual hook. Which of the ads is unlike the other?

Konverge-12011KONVERGE is indicated for hypertension in patients whose blood pressure is not adequately controlled on olmesartan medoxomil or amlodipine monotherapy. This 2011 ad from A. Menarini Pharmaceiticals Ireland and Daiichi Sankyo depicts two special forces commandos in branded parachutes on a mission into hostile territory, “combining forces in hypertension control.” The only surprise here is that the client approved the use of military images, usually a polarizing issue in the global market, and normally seen as US-centric because of our perceived “war-mongering” ways.

TresibaApr2013-TRESIBA, a new-generation once-daily longer-lasting basal insulin that increases dosing flexibility for adult patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, was launched in the EU in 2013. Here we see three consecutive parachutes carrying HbA1c numbers, coming in for a targeted landing next to a smiling, satisfied patient because we’re getting “HbA1c down with control.” There are no special ops forces depicted, but because of the brand’s color, the green parachutes and the patient’s requisite green branded sweatshirt, it gives the ad that military camouflage wartime feel.

Dukoral-112011Lastly, from Quebec, comes an ad for DUKORAL, an oral vaccine for protection against travellers’ diarrhea. While the execution and design could be stronger, here the parachute is situational rather than metaphorical. Parasailing on vacation, “This is not the right time to have travellers’ diarrhea.” We get it, Montezuma…a real situation that makes your sphincter tighten up at the thought of it.

SAMSo just remember that even though you strive for brilliance, there will come a time in the creative process that you’ll have to jump and open the metaphor chute. Think of it more as a free fall, finding your parachute bag filled with camping equipment, as you watch your creativity plummet and then splatter on the earth below…but at least you’ll end up with a cliché-happy client and a portfolio of brilliant comps.

My Knight In Tainted Armor


The creative team is gathered at the Round Table. Before them is their quest, two words written on a brief: POWERFUL PROTECTION. Where for art thou, Sir Metaphor??

What’s not to like about Knights? They fought bravely, wore cool protective armor, held shields branded with their own personal logos, they jousted and lived by a moral code of chivalry. Knights are the epitome of “powerful protection”. There are many drugs on the market that also offer powerful protection. “Hey, let’s use an ancient medieval icon to represent our modern therapy”, said too many agency creatives (and probably a few brand managers).

Velcade-2008How will this icon represent the brand? Will it make an emotional connection with physicians and be imprinted in their minds and hearts or will it quickly say “powerful protection” for a fleeting moment until a journal page is turned or an iPad screen swiped?

VELCADE (multiple myeloma) has its purple knight poised for battle with rays of hope beaming through a rather large transparent shield. If you look closer, it may not be a knight at all, but rather a member of the riot police about to beat down an insurgent crowd. Regardless, a physician will only spend 1-3 seconds taking it all in, so for practical reasons, let’s say it’s the Purple Knight.

There is promise on the horizon (note the rising sun) with DEXILANT (GERD). This knight, glistening in highly polished armored, proudly displays anDexilant2012 infographic shield. Take heed, your strongest icons are singular in focus. Here, the DEXILANT knight is attempting multiple messages, “power, day and night.” Just to make sure the reader gets it, “power” is highlighted in bold lime green in the headline. And in case you don’t associate knights with heartburn, the indication is presented in 700pt type. My only question is, “Where is the fire-breathing GERD dragon?”

REYATAZ (HIV) gives you double protection with two layers of knighthood, but only if you’re wearing a branded sweater.


PerjetaEvery knight knows that you are vulnerable if you leave the castle wearing only your “chain mail” (the layer of tiny metal ring linked together in a mesh pattern). Right before your eyes, PERJETA (breast cancer) transforms gold mesh into gold-plated armor for gold standard protection!

If you have a gun (or a sword) to your head and have to use a metaphor, a rule of thumb is do something to it to make it unique, so that it stands apart from its clichéd predecessors. Does it make the concept any less pharma-cheesical? No, but at least it won’t be a carbon copy of another brand’s used icon, which is what INCIVEK (Hep C) did with their knight.

Incivek2012INCIVEK supersized their jousting knight with “SPEED, POWER and PRECISION” by putting him on a high-tech motorcycle, lance in hand and branded cape flying, having just pierced and destroyed a Hepatitis C cell. Is it memorable compared to other knight icons? Yes. Is it still a cliché? Yes.


The motorcycle jousting scene

knightriders_ver2_xlgWhile I’m still not a fan of this concept, there is a special place in my heart for this particular icon because it makes an emotional connection with me. Why? It takes me back to 1981, to a movie from my youth that I fell in love with but haven’t seen in decades. If you like Arthurian legends, then you must check out Knightriders, directed by George Romero and starring a young Ed Harris as the leader of a group of traveling knights who compete in jousts on motorcycles at Renaissance Fairs. It was a current take on Camelot, although 1981 is already feeling like the Middle Ages. I’ve always wondered if the creative team was “inspired” by this movie, with its knights on bikes, and if I was the only one this icon made a human connection with? Want to use metaphors? “We are the Knights who say NO!” (Monty Python & The Holy Grail reference).

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