Pfizer's softly, softly, COVID marketing approach continues with new drug ad

Pfizer’s COVID vaccine ads have been light on branding and strong on “human spirit,” and that subtle marketing approach continues—though with a small difference—in its first commercial for COVID-fighting pills.

The ad, which began airing last week, is an animated 30-second spot focusing on how fast COVID-19 moves. Using an orange and blue color scheme, the ad features a narrator saying you can move fast, too, by “asking your healthcare provider if a new oral treatment could be right for you.”

There is no mention of Pfizer’s newly authorized COVID pill Paxlovid, though clearly the U.S. Big Pharma is hoping patients would choose its treatment. A Pfizer logo pops up at the end of the spot along with a link to Pfizer’s COVID-19 website.

The spot shows a woman taking a pill at home, and the narrator points out that treatment “must be taken within five days” of symptoms starting. Do this even if your symptoms are mild, the narrator says, but only ask for a pill if you are at high risk for severe disease. A COVID test is required, the narrator notes.

The new spot falls in line with Pfizer's COVID vaccine advertising, which has also been subtle. With its shots, the New York pharma did not even speak directly to how and when to get its vaccine, but that's a more important piece of information for oral treatments, which only work if patients seek out a pill in that five-day window.

Pfizer has so far spent $2.8 million on the commercial, with 269 airings over the past 10 days, according to data from iSpot.TV

Paxlovid, a protease inhibitor that works by keeping the virus from replicating, scored an FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) at the end of last year and features in a $5.29 billion supply deal with the U.S.

Pfizer said in its full-year earnings announcement last month that it expects Paxlovid sales worth an enormous $22 billion for 2022. Getting the word out now is a clear strategy to get antiviral treatments to patients. Paxlovid competes with Merck’s molnupiravir, narrowly recommended for an EUA late last year, and Gilead’s remdesivir (Veklury), which was authorized early on in the pandemic in 2020.

Pfizer won't be allowed to market the Paxlovid brand until full FDA approval. That explains why its COVID pill ad serves more as an awareness campaign of oral treatments in general.

Paxlovid builds on Pfizer’s overwhelming commercial success for its COVID vaccine Comirnaty, which made more than $36.8 billion in sales last year.

Pfizer, starting late last year, released a series of ads talking around that vaccine—though not directly to it—preferring to talk about how vaccines can help get people “back to normal” while dialing down the branding.

The vaccine was originally given an EUA but, in August last year, nabbed full FDA approval to prevent COVID in those 16 years and older.

Check out the new ad below.