If it’s March, it must be March Madness. For Fierce Pharma, that means #FierceMadness, our annual take on the NCAA basketball tournament and bracket mania—with a pharma twist.
This year, we’re featuring pharma's direct-to-consumer advertising and marketing campaigns. Fans and critics alike can weigh in on our head-to-head matchups.
The #FierceMadness tournament works just like the NCAA brackets. We start today with play-ins—eight teams going against each other to earn divisional berths. Vote here through Tuesday, March 16 at 6 p.m. for your favorite four.
Then come back Wednesday for the full list of 32 teams and matchups, ready for voting.
Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with all 32 campaigns. The write-ups below include links to previous coverage that delves into each campaign's creative, strategy and the pharma company behind it.
If you want to play strictly by the NCAA tournament rules, print a copy of the full #FierceMadness bracket and enter all your predictions before we get started.
Share your completed brackets on Twitter with the hashtag #FierceMadness and we'll retweet them to put them on the record—and give proper credit down the line if this is the year we finally get a perfect FierceMadness bracket.
While the NCAA March Madness tourney watchers are wagering on upsets and sure winners, we’re sure to notch a few surprises throughout the #FierceMadness run. In fact, our play-in round includes a couple of tough calls. We've paired up some pharma companies with multiple campaigns—AbbVie, Biohaven and Novartis —so voters can narrow down the best contender from each one.
Voting begins now with the four play-in games, whose winners will join the bracket for the full 32-ad contest launching Wednesday. New matchups will open for voting each Monday and Wednesday through the championship game on March 31. We'll declare a winner April 5.
Of course, everyone has different opinions on what makes a good—or bad—pharma ad, so please let us know in the comment section why you chose the way you did. Did the ad make you stop and notice the creativity or just shake your head in confusion? Maybe it was just so bad it was good? Cheer the champs and dis the duds, and we'll publish our favorite feedback when the votes roll in.
Come back each Monday and Wednesday to vote for your favorite and spread the word to co-workers and friends. Please be a good sport—only one vote per round per person.
Cast your ballots here for the play-in winners by 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Round 1 Play-ins (Vote here)
(8) Novartis vs. (8) Roche
Ad: Piqray “Piq Hope”
Novartis used a play on words in advertising for its Piqray metastatic breast cancer therapy, encouraging people to “Piq” hope, clarity and knowledge when dealing with the disease.
Ad: Ocrevus “Dear MS”
Roche aimed TV ads for its Ocrevus multiple sclerosis med at millennials. Young people tell the disease it doesn’t get to control their lives and hold up two fingers to signal just twice-yearly infusion treatments.
(8) Novartis 1 vs. (8) Novartis 2
Ad: Xiidra “Inflammation Villain”
Novartis switched from its all about “ii”s program for dry eye treatment Xiidra to a cartoon inflammatory devil who works behind the scenes to cause eye itching and burning.
Ad: Kisqali “We Are the Thrivers”
Novartis' TV debut for Kisqali metastatic breast cancer treatment showcased active, engaged women with the disease—the “thrivers”—in a campaign built on patient insights about their desire to live fully and be hopeful.
(8) AbbVie 1 vs. (8) AbbVie 2
Ad: Ubrelvy “Every Match Counts”
Tennis champion and athlete extraordinaire Serena Williams spoke out about her migraines in AbbVie’s ad campaign for its new acute migraine treatment Ubrelvy.
Ad: Rinvoq “Make it Your Mission”
The approval of AbbVie’s next-gen rheumatoid arthritis Rinvoq led to its first DTC campaign, with TV ads encouraging patients to “take on” the condition.
(8) Biohaven 1 vs. (8) Biohaven 2
Ad: Nurtec "NASCAR"
With Biohaven’s first drug approval for Nurtec in acute migraine relief, the biotech paired a NASCAR racing sponsorship with its own purple Nurtec car, No. 51.
Ad: Nurtec "Kardashian"
Although Biohaven recently hit a bump in the road with Nurtec's supercelebrity spokesperson Khloe Kardashian, the partnership is grabbing plenty of notice with potential patients.
Don't forget to come back Wednesday to vote on the play-in winners and these 28 other pharma ad campaigns:
Ad: "Janssen Never Stops"
J&J mounted a corporate effort for pharma unit Janssen, where its COVID-19 vaccine was was developed, assuring doctors and patients that its scientists’ hard work “never stops.”
Ad: Uber partnership for vaccine awareness and rides
Moderna partnered with Uber to educate drivers and passengers with an eye to the future and the potential for ride-sharing to spur vaccine use.
Ad: Dexcom G6 “The Future is Here”
Superstar singer, Jonas Brothers bandmate and Type 1 diabetes patient Nick Jonas starred in a trendy Super Bowl campaign for Dexcom's no-fingerprick glucose monitoring system.
Ad: Ozempic “My Zone”
Company: Novo Nordisk
Comedian and actor Billy Gardell charts his real-life Type 2 diabetes struggle with exercise, weight and keeping healthy for Novo’s Ozempic brand, separate from its earworm-y "Oh Oh Ozempic" ads.
Ad: Kesimpta “Relapsing MS Drama”
Novartis focused on the upside of its multiple sclerosis drug Kesimpta in its first-ever DTC campaign for the med, offering patients a break from MS drama.
Ad: Phexxi “Get Phexxi”
Company: Evofem Biosciences
Evofem Biosciences launched its newly approved non-hormonal birth control gel with a sassy play on the brand name in its “Get Phexxi” campaign.
Ad: Trelegy “It’s a New Day”
Departing from its familiar Jackson 5 riff “Easy as 1-2-3” for Trelegy to treat COPD, GSK moved to realistic patient portrayals with people throwing out ashtrays and cigarettes in “New Day” ads.
Ad: "The Road to a Vaccine"
Company: Johnson & Johnson
Just weeks into the pandemic last year, J&J debuted an ambitious weekly live series “Road to a Vaccine” with journalist host Lisa Ling. The almost yearlong show featured its own scientist and outside public health officials on a variety of COVID-19 topics.
Ad: Adakveo “Do U Dance”
Twitch, the celebrity dance and “Ellen” show DJ, challenged social media users to a do their own dance in Novartis’ Adakveo campaign, raising awareness of sickle cell disease.
Ad: Latuda “Real Expressions”
Sunovion created its newest advertising effort for Latuda during the pandemic, portraying depression sufferers posing one by one with matching artwork.
Ad: Rybelsus “Wake Up”
Company: Novo Nordisk
Bright computer-generated graphics and an upbeat rock version of “You Are My Sunshine” subbed in for Novo Nordisk's originally planned—but pandemic-scrambled—live action Rybelsus commercial.
Ad: Nexletol “Break the Cycle”
Esperion nabbed its first approval for Nexletol during the 2020 pandemic, but instead of putting off the DTC launch, it made an all-stock video TV commercial.
Ad: Biktarvy “Keep Being You”
Company: Gilead Sciences
Gilead Sciences debuted its first national TV ads for triple combination HIV med Biktarvy with a positive message for HIV-positive people to keep creating, living, loving and being yourself.
Ad: Vyvanse “V is for Vyvanse”
Takeda targeted adults with ADHD in its campaign for Vyvanse, keying in on the positives of what people with the condition can achieve and inviting them to “rethink ADHD.”
Ad: "Why We Science"
Wrapping Bayer’s entire portfolio into one pre-pandemic corporate ad campaign, the pharma and agricultural giant highlighted products from aspirin to crop helpers to hemophilia meds.
Ad: “Remember Normal”
Company: Pfizer and BioNTech
Pfizer and BioNTech tap sentimental longing for pre-pandemic days with a campaign that looks forward to the promise of a more normal life with a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ad: Descovy “Step up for PrEP”
Company: Gilead Sciences
Gilead Sciences’ first DTC ads for its next-gen pre-exposure prophylaxis drug Descovy featured seven different people who take turns encouraging viewers to step up to PrEP and explaining who should and why.
Ad: Sublocade “Keep Moving Towards Recovery”
Individor used positive images of recovery to tackle the stigma that surrounds opioids in first-ever TV advertising for its injected opioid use disorder treatment, Sublocade.
Ad: Argenx light-up and docuseries for myasthenia gravis awareness
Argenx’s first awareness effort for the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis included a virtual conference, light-up nights around the country, a patient website debut and the tease of its documentary.
Ad: Cequa “Battle Back”
Company: Sun Pharmaceutical
In its first DTC work for Cequa. Sun Pharma used a feather duster to the face—and humor—to show just how irritating overly dry eyes can be.
Ad: Nucala “NuNormal”
GSK’s first TV ads for its esosinophilic asthma treatment Nucala used a play on the brand name and the oft-repeated pandemic phrase to give another meaning to “new normal."
Ad: "Science Will Win"
As the pandemic began last year, Pfizer took to the big screen to help allay fears and promote positive industry perception with the promise of science.
Ad: Xofluza “Flattened by the Flu”
Company: Roche’s Genentech
Before COVID-19, there was the seasonal flu. Roche’s Genentech’s then-new work for influenza med Xofluza featured eye-catching visuals of “flattened” clothing trudging through the day with flu symptoms.
Ad: Dovato “Everything That I Am”
Company: GSK’s ViiV Healthcare
ViiV Healthcare used real patients in its first DTC work for its two-drug combo HIV medicine Dovato.
Ad: Sunosi “Stay Awake for Amazing Things”
Company: Jazz Pharmaceuticals
When pigs fly gets a literal interpretation in Jazz’s latest DTC work for Sunosi, a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. In TV and digital ads, a sleepy man doesn’t notice the flying pig, or much else.
Ad: Caplyta “Everyday Moments”
Intra-Cellular debuted its first DTC campaign for schizophrenia treatment Caplyta, showcasing everyday lives of people living with schizophrenia. To create family scenes during the pandemic, it hired the real family members of featured actors as extras.
Ad: Skyrizi “Nothing Is Everything”
AbbVie’s created a new tune for next-gen psoriasis drug Skyrizi, its blockbuster-hopeful followup to Humira, in a campaign to showcase the joy people feel with clearer skin.
Ad: “Juvederm It (for lips)”
Company: Allergan Aesthetics
Millenials took the spotlight in Allergan Aesthetics’ extension of its “Juvederm It” campaign, this time with a focus on lip fillers—and targeting younger women, who tend to enter the aesthetics market via fillers.