Eli Lilly opens Olympic Games with first corporate ad—and a reality check on the state of the U.S. health system

Team USA Olympic-sponsor Eli Lilly will showcase its first-ever corporate ad campaign during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games on Friday.

However, unlike typical athletic triumph ads, Lilly’s TV ad offers a reality check on American healthcare.

“Watching the success of our athletes will once again give the impression that America is the healthiest country in the world. We aren’t,” the voiceover says, adding, “But we can be.”

Created by Nike ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, the stylized ad begins with close-up images of intense athletes’ faces on TV, then cuts to people watching on TVs from different modest settings—pawn shop, barber shop, living room and small bedrooms as the message continues.  

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“We have the science, the medicine—we have everything we need. We just need to make health a priority. Because our collective health is too important to take for granted ever again,” the voiceover says.

The corporate campaign “Health Above All” includes TV, print, social and digital ads as well as out-of-home ads in New York and Los Angeles. Creative messages change across media outlet with a goal to help start conversations with different audiences around health. A print ad in Sports Illustrated, for instance, makes the case that sports stories are health stories.

The atypically somber tenor was carefully considered, but Lilly saw an opportunity in the timing.

“In a moment of celebration—not just of the Olympics, but these Olympics and the Paralympic Games— where the world will come together again really for the first time since the pandemic, it was important to send a message remembering what’s really important and the meaning of our collective health,” Lilly’s Chief Media Officer Lina Polimeni said.

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The Olympic opening ceremony commercial is actually the second TV ad in Lilly’s first corporate campaign. The initial spot called “A Medicine Company” launched at the end of May and serves as an introduction to Lilly and that it makes medicines not just for some people but for everyone, Polimeni said.

As a Team USA sponsor, Lilly is also sponsoring seven Olympic and Paralympic athletes—several appear in the spot as the athletes performing on the TV sets. 

The same athletes also star in another part of the integrated campaign. Product advertising for Lilly meds Trulicity, Emgality and Verzenio connect the athletes’ personal health stories with conditions either they or a loved one have in those categories. Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez, for example, stars with her dad, who has Type 2 diabetes, in branded ads for Trulicity.

Another goal of the new corporate work? Raise brand awareness of Lilly the company.

“Pharma brand preference is being formed today in front of our eyes. Meaning whether we do anything or not, people are deciding what vaccine to take based on what their belief is about a certain pharma company. That was not the case 10 years ago,” Polimeni said.

In this extraordinary time in America, Lilly had two choices—either keep doing what they were, marketing and promoting products behind the scenes or take the step forward and start a conversation in health equity, she said.

Of course that doesn’t mean Lilly has all the answers either.

“We understand this is the first step in the conversation, so we wanted to start from a place of authenticity,” she said.