Concept Diagnosis

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Tag: metaphors

Lions and Tigers and Metaphors, OH MY!

The most used metaphors in the history of pharmaceutical advertising come from the animal kingdom, and probably none more so than the members of the genus Panthera: the tiger and the lion.

What’s not to love about these feline icons? They’ve been featured prominently in ancient mythology and folklore for thousands of years. They appear globally on many flags, coats of arms and as mascots of sports teams (especially if you live in Detroit). They are majestic animals and powerful, fierce hunters. You can find “a tiger in your tank” (Exxon), in your bowl of cereal (Frosted Flakes) or roaming the sales materials of representatives in doctors’ offices. Here are just five examples.

Tygacil2007TYGACIL (tigecycline), a broad-spectrum hospital anti-infective from Wyeth, was approved in 2005. The launch ad depicts TYGACIL as a tiger, “A POWERFUL NEW PARTNER”, walking alongside a doctor through a hospital corridor. Obviously the doctor now has a manageable, yet fierce, antibiotic to fight resistant pathogens. While I don’t condone the use of endangered species in pharma ads, I could see the lure of reinforcing TYGACIL’s name recognition with a tiger at launch.

ValcyteVALCYTE (valganciclovir) is prescribed for the prevention of cytomegalovirus (CMV) disease in high-risk adult and pediatric transplant patients. In this multi-page ad, one of the indicated pediatric patients is depicted as a tiger cub, helpless and possibly within the sights of a predator. “WHEN THE RISK IS HIGH”, you need “THE POWER TO PROTECT”. We get it, VALCYTE is now the tiger because there is no fiercer animal than a tiger or lion momma protecting her young…’nuff said! But it’s still just a stock shot of tigers as I’m waiting for Marlin Perkins (google him, kiddies) or Jeff Corwin to narrate this documentary.

In the pharma world, 2009 must have been the Year of the Lion because we were introduced to two lion campaigns (not be confused with Cannes Lions).Combigan

Allergan’s COMBIGAN (brimonidine/timolol) treats pressure in the eye caused by glaucoma. The brand is depicted in their ad as a lion comfortably sitting on a couch (probably watching Born Free…google that too, kids!) next to a patient reading the Global Times. “POWER YOU CAN BE COMFORTABLE WITH”, until you get mauled to death in the comfort of your own living room or by a tiger in the hospital cafeteria.

Nucynta10.2009The creative brief for painkiller NUCYNTA (tapentadol) probably had two words leaping off the page for the creative teams: gentle strength. That would explain why we see a Casanova King of the Jungle with a rose in his mouth ready to lure you into a lascivious tango or to be his dinner.Humira2012

Abbott, makers of HUMIRA (adalimumab) turned the tables in 2012 and made these animals a vicious threat as we see a leopard coming out of the darkness eyeing us like a gazelle with gout. No headlines are necessary here because in healthcare advertising no one can hear you scream (unless you see an ad using red boxing gloves, but that’s a topic for another article). Turn the page and you can hear HUMIRA shouting, “Honey, I Shrunk the Cats!” as a tiger, a lion and the leopard now conveniently fit in your palm but still large enough to gnaw the fingers from your hand.

Those were just a few examples, but there are many more. We haven’t had any lion sightings in a while, but those big cats are lurking out there, waiting to be used as an icon for your next client. Fight the urge and make these metaphors extinct.

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.

“…going off the rails on a crazy train”


Ozzy Osbourne was right. Creativity can go off the rails pretty quickly. The problem with most metaphors is that they’re not ownable, especially in HCP communication. The more you use them, the greater the chance of a train wreck, as we witness with these four campaigns.

Four different agencies each had a creative brief with these words, most likely, as the main point: RAPID & POWERFUL.  What happened behind closed agencies doors is known only by the creators of these campaigns.  Were the concepts agency driven or client driven?  Did they start off as insight driven communication that made an emotional connection with the healthcare professional or did the client ask for an icon to tell a two-part story? The stories behind campaigns are endless and unique. For all we know, these campaigns may have been the most successful in the brands’ history, and hats off if they were!  Or, perhaps conveying information alone wasn’t enough to change customer behavior.

The lesson here is exercise caution when using metaphors. If you’re going to go down that road (or those tracks), check to make sure they haven’t been done before or recently. While one could argue that they’re for different indications and don’t compete directly with each other, a physician may be exposed to all four. Cover over the logo on each of the ads and the visual becomes generic. “Generic? But they’re branded!” Yes, they are. PICATO (for actinic keratosis) is the high-tech train of the future; RAPAFLO is branded blue for the watery world of BPH and it would seem that the AFINITOR (oncology) and STRIBILD (HIV) trains came off the same production line. At the end of the day they’re just locomotives parked in the West Side Rail Yards at Penn Station.


You may have a mild case of the Pharma-cheesical

Is your latest concept depicting boxing gloves to address your brand’s “one-two punch” strategy? Do you see hour-glasses when you think of time or lions when you envision power?  Well I’m sorry to inform you that these are just a few of the signs and symptoms of the “Pharma-cheesical” virus.

Pharma-cheesical is a medical term referring to the cliches of healthcare advertising that causes communication to be bland and anemic, lacking personality or insights. This is often accompanied by the use of rehashed, ridiculous metaphors that have no emotional connection to the patient or physician. The Pharma-cheesical virus may also cause you to depict patients gardening, kayaking or taking relaxing strolls on a beach…because all seniors on therapy partake in these activities every day.

We’ve all been afflicted by this creatively insidious virus maybe once or twice in our careers. It’s very contagious, often spread by clients who are uncomfortable with provocative ideas and doctors in market research who don’t believe in marketing but whose comments are taken as law. Young creative teams are also susceptible to Pharma-cheesical while searching for inspiration on stock image sites.

There is no preventative vaccine. Washing your hands with soap and water several times a day won’t help. The only way to protect yourself from the Pharma-cheesical virus is EDUCATION. Know the signs and avoid them, pure and simple and boost your conceptual immune system by understanding what great looks like and why.



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