Pain and empathy: GSK migraine simulator for Excedrin wins creative and consumer praise

Excedrin Migraine Experience

Seeing is believing in GlaxoSmithKlines’s latest campaign for Excedrin Migraine. Using a virtual reality simulator and working with migraine sufferers, GSK and ad agency DDB Remedy recreated what migraines "feel" like.

While pain is not included, of course, the experience does simulate the difficult visual symptoms that often signal the beginning of migraines such as disorientation, auras and sensitivity to light. 

In the TV ad, one mother who wears the headset and experiences what her daughter Elisabeth goes through breaks down, saying “I’m so sorry that you go through this.” Three other migraine sufferers and their loved ones or coworkers have similar experiences, which are posted as online videos at the Excedrin migraine experience website.


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The campaign, which took about a year to create, bowed in April and recently snagged three creative awards at the Cannes Lions Health show. It’s also been generating substantial online attention with almost 19 million views, and more than 11 million of those on Facebook. The work has garnered more than 285,000 social engagements, which includes comments, retweets, likes and shares. Newly added to the marketing mix is a just-launched app that works with virtual reality viewers like Google Cardboard to create a three-dimensional version of symptoms.

Although the campaign is based around virtual reality, the goal of the work is to induce empathy for sufferers, not celebrate whiz-bang technology, said Amardeep Kahlon, GSK Consumer Healthcare marketing director for respiratory health, pain relief and skin care.

“The whole idea we kept in mind while creating the work was that there are 36 million people in the U.S. who suffer from migraines and the one thing they find in common is how very debilitating it is and how difficult it is to explain that to their partners and others around them,” he said.

Social media comments about the campaign reveal those similar themes of lifelong pain and even disbelief from people around them. One commenter on Facebook wrote, “For those who suffer from migraines, this commercial says it all. If you don't have them, watch it for someone who does. The only thing missing is the extreme pain that can come along with one. … My daughter has had them since she was 11. The first time she got one I took her to the emergency room. The doctor took me aside and said she was faking. Really.”

Kahlon added, "One of the best things about this has been watching online conversations. … Migraine sufferers finally feel that people understand them and what their experience is."

Virtual reality is an emerging technology for healthcare and pharma, but, as evidenced by several panels on the topic at Cannes, is growing in popularity as a way for marketers to better understand and communicate patient conditions and experiences.

- see the website
- watch the ad

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