With live video shoots hobbled by COVID-19, Esperion made an all-stock TV commercial instead

Esperion cholesterol med Nexletol bottle
Esperion's FDA green light for Nexletol in February came weeks before COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S., forcing the biopharma to retool DTC plans. (Esperion)

Welcome to commercial TV production in the time of COVID-19. No actors, no cameras and, in fact, most of the time no set shoots.

Esperion came to that abrupt realization when lockdowns first hit. They'd spent months laying out their first TV ad storyboards for cholesterol fighter Nexletol and finalizing the narrative and message details—and found they were ready for an ad shoot that couldn’t happen.

So, Esperion and its ad agency FCB Health New York went to the library. Not the one with the giant concrete lions on 42 St., but online caches of digital stock video. Agency creatives combed through hours and hours of digital film to find just the right video to match the original storyboard vision for the ad.

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The company also tweaked its plans a bit to incorporate the COVID-19 social environment and culture of social distancing, outdoor exploits and even telehealth.

One segment in the middle of the TV ad, for instance, shows a doctor in a white lab coat on a computer screen during a patient visit, holding a bottle of Nexletol. Naturally, no stock footage pictured a bottle of the newly approved Nexletol, so the agency added it using computer-generated imagery (CGI).

RELATED: Esperion ditches traditional drug launch playbook to navigate first drug debut during pandemic

They crossed every T, even down to changing up the call to action. Where typical drug ads advise people to “ask your doctor” about a med, the voice-over in the Nexletol ad says, “Call your doctor today.”

By the time Esperion got to their "Break the Cycle" DTC campaign, they’d already had their share of COVID-19 upheaval. The TV commercial was just another hurdle.

Esperion Executive Director of Marketing Renee Marotta described the “back to the drawing board” approach they took to understanding the new market dynamics and making sure the TV ad would fit. With no restaurant or party scenes or even doctors’ exam rooms allowed, the creative switched to family and outdoor scenes. But it still stuck to the original idea of one person’s struggle to lower their cholesterol.

“There’s no analog—new company, new sales force, two new products launching essentially simultaneously into the marketplace, then add in the term ‘pandemic’ which is new to all of us,” she said. “And we didn’t have the choice that some of the bigger companies had to just pull back and wait for calmer waters.”

FCB Health New York added via email, "Since lockdown, we’ve created multiple stock and CGI spots for our clients. What makes this special is that it is the only spot we’ve created that was written, storyboarded and tested with the intention to shoot it."

Nexletol notched its FDA green light in February followed by a nod for Esperion’s combination drug Nexlizet.

RELATED: ACC: Esperion's Nexletol busts cholesterol levels regardless of statin, ezitimibe therapy

The TV ad was in fact planned for later in the year or even early next year. However, Esperion decided to launch early to get the word to consumers as they were rolling out marketing to healthcare providers.

With the pandemic still hampering sales reps, the campaign serves a dual role to reach both target groups. Healthcare providers actually helped drive that, reporting to Esperion that they worried about patients with cholesterol issues not watching what they eat or exercising as much during the pandemic.

The campaign includes phased-in media beginning with the TV ad on connected TV, along with digital banners and social media targeted to potential Nexletol patients and HCP prescribers.

The bright side for the stock footage video ad? Big cost savings, Marotta said.

“It’s a pretty cost-effective way to shoot a commercial,” she said, adding, “The way we’ve been able to pivot and shift is pretty incredible.”

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