AbbVie's silent IBD awareness ad sparks angry backlash but also draws support

AbbVie's new IBD awareness TV ad last week drew both jeers and cheers as patients debated whether its portrayal of IBD was accurate or not. (AbbVie)

A young mother, grimacing and holding her stomach, leaves her young son’s basketball game. A father with a pained expression on his face gets up from the couch and walks out of the room while his daughter and wife glance up from doing homework.

Those are a couple of the scenes from an AbbVie TV ad that began last week for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. But viewers might not know that from watching the ad because there are no words spoken during the entire commercial.

No superimposed text mentions either one of those inflammatory bowel diseases, either. There is only a short text message at the end that reads: “You may not realize … something is missing … you,” followed by the promise, “To be continued.”

Some IBD patients immediately recognized the ad as a portrayal of their condition. While some were pleased to see the depiction of the real pain and suffering they face, others were upset at the perceived implications that they’re somehow bad parents or at the reminder that they're missing out on life. In the comment section underneath the ad on, dozens of people complained that the ad was “insulting,” “depressing” or, in a sure sign of the times, “deplorable.”

One commenter said, “Speaking as one who suffers from IBS, I can say that all of us who suffers (sic) from this, Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis know exactly what we are missing out on. We don't need insulting reminders in the name of selling the latest drug.”

Yet, other patients applauded the ad in the iSpot comments and elsewhere on social media. One IBD sufferer spoke highly of the ad on her blog “Lights Camera Crohn's” in a post that read, in part, “As a mom who’s battled Crohn’s disease for almost 13 years, this is the first time I’ve seen a commercial about IBD and related to it 100 percent. This isn’t some ploy to try and make people feel guilty for their condition. It’s the reality of what life is like for IBD families.”

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However, those points may be moot now because the teaser commercial has already finished airing. In its place, the promised follow-up “To be continued” ad has begun. It's a branded ad for Humira, AbbVie's anti-inflammatory treatment for Crohn’s and colitis. In it, the same dad from the first ad starts out in the some of the same sad scenes, and talks in voiceover, “I thought I was managing my moderate to severe Crohn’s disease. Then I realized something was missing—me. I realized my symptoms were keeping me from being there. So I talked to my doctor.” The music tempo shifts to upbeat and he is shown picking up his daughter from school, taking her for ice cream and generally enjoying life with her, as the Humira risk and benefit voiceover runs.


The jury is still out on whether the Part 2 ad can quell the initial storm since there is not yet much feedback or commentary on social media.

AbbVie said, in an email response to questions about the campaign, “The ‘There for Them’ campaign is part of an initiative to elevate the discussion about the challenges IBD patients and their loved ones face. The first part of the campaign has now ended and AbbVie is now airing the second phase of the segment.”

AbbVie added that “the campaign is grounded in insights and research from IBD patients, who voiced challenges that come with missing important moments because of the disease. We created this campaign to help increase dialogue about these challenges, as well as to encourage patients to talk to their doctor to make sure they are receiving a treatment that is right for them.”