Lilly warms up for Olympics with Team USA athletes in ads for Trulicity, Emgality and Verzenio

Summer Olympics Tokyo 2020
Eli Lilly signed on for a one-year Team USA sponsorship now underway with athlete and product advertising. (

While the Summer Olympics don't start until later this month, Eli Lilly and its Team USA athletes are already taking on health conditions in ads and videos for Lilly medicines.

Lilly-sponsored Olympic and Paralympic U.S. athletes appear in branded TV ads for three of its drugs—Type 2 diabetes drug Trulicity, migraine med Emgality and breast cancer treatment Verzenio.

Lilly isn’t the first pharma to work out sponsor deals around the Olympics—Johnson & Johnson was a sponsor of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and GlaxoSmithKline was the official lab service for 2012 London Olympics—but Lilly’s athlete and brand ties are less common for pharma.

When Lilly announced in February 2020 its one-year Team USA sponsorship—extended to 2021 because of the Games moving—it said at the time that sponsored athletes would act as brand ambassadors. Now, it's pairing those blockbuster brands with athletes who have a personal connection to the conditions they treat.

Now running on TV, for instance, is an ad for Trulicity with Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and her father, Tony, who has Type 2 diabetes. Hernandez talks about making the right choices to succeed as her dad watches her train and the two go on walks and eat healthy snacks.

Another athlete, hand-cycling Paralympian Oz Sanchez, appears on the Emgality website explaining his mother’s struggle with Type 2 diabetes and her commitment to healthy choices.

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For migraine drug Emgality, paratriathlete Allyssa Seely and swimmer Ryan Murphy—who both suffer from migraine—appear in a TV ad to talk about passion and dedication. Murphy, who doesn’t take Emgality, appears only in the beginning, while Seely talks about using Emgality to help her migraine. A third athlete, swimmer Kathleen Baker, is on the Emgality website along with a story about her mother’s migraine struggle.

Finally, for Verzenio, Olympic champion volleyball player April Ross stars in memory of her mother, who died from metastatic breast cancer when she was 19. The commercial shows Ross watching videos and viewing images of her mother.

Lilly uses the “Relentless” theme from its ongoing campaign, noting that time is relentless, too. Ross holds the heart necklace her mom gave her and looks up briefly before stepping onto the sand of a volleyball court.

The only Lilly-sponsored Team USA athlete who doesn’t appear in product ads is high jumper and breast cancer survivor Chaunté Lowe.

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“Being a Team USA partner offers Lilly an important platform to talk about the role of good health in reaching one’s potential alongside a like-minded organization,” Patrik Jonsson, senior vice president, president of Lilly USA and chief customer officer, said in a recent Around the Rings post.

The ads could especially hit the mark with a particular set of Olympic watchers, according to findings from a recent survey by adtech firm Amobee.

Consumers who engage with Olympics-related content, whom it dubs Olympic enthusiasts, are more likely female, have higher household incomes and skew toward the 45-plus age group. That audience demographic is a good fit for pharma, health, insurance, financial and insurance advertisers, the adtech said.