Pharma sits out Super Bowl ads again, but Mr. Mucus sneaks into the after-party

Football stadium lights and field
Super Bowl LII had no pharma commercials, the second year in a row that the industry stayed on the sidelines for the big ad game. (efks / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Pharma companies sat the bench for the second Super Bowl in a row. The biggest annual advertising blitz—and most expensive at an estimated $5 million per commercial—had no pharma commercials for the second year in a row after several years of play.

However, in post-Super Bowl action, Reckitt Benckiser's signature OTC spokesman Mr. Mucus appeared a few minutes after the end of the game and before the trophy was presented to the winning Philadelphia Eagles. The Mucinex snot monster was on hand to talk about “Super Sick Monday” an actual phenomenon that sees millions of people call in sick the day after the big game.

Mucinex partnered with the Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated on a recent survey that found 14 million employed Americans who planned to watch the Super Bowl said they intended to call in sick Monday.

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In the postgame ad, Mr. Mucus walks through a darkened tunnel, much like those leading into a stadium, clad in a red tracksuit. The party's over, he says, then rants about people thinking about calling in sick, accusing them of  “faking it.” “Shame on You America,” he scolds, just as a giant box of Mucinex medicine falls on him. The ad goes silent as the words “Enjoy your sick day, America” superimpose on screen.

The campaign, created by McCann, included short teaser TV ads airing the week before the game that hyped #SuperSickMonday was on its way. The idea was pushed on social media as well, with tweets from the Mucinex account and others including, Terry Bradshaw, in a paid #ad just before the game that said, “Everyone here is gearing up for the big game! Don’t tell anyone, but I may need to take a 'sick' day when this is all over” including the SuperSickMonday hashtag and Mucinex Twitter handle.

Pharma may have decided the big-ticket price tag, along with the intense scrutiny of Super Bowl advertising, may not be worth it. Just two years ago, three pharma commercials ran during the Super Bowl—one disease awareness ad from AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo about opioid-induced constipation, and two product spots, both from Valeant, one for its toe fungus treatment Jublia and the other for IBS-D treatment Xifaxan.

But all three faced backlash from the media, pundits and consumers. Viewers complained about the inappropriate timing of fungus and diarrhea talk during the traditionally lighthearted Sunday game day ad line up, as well as the bigger political issue of pharma ads on TV.

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Pharma did get a parody nod in last year's Procter & Gamble’s Tide Super Bowl series, which poked fun at the difficulty in figuring out what the big-time ads are actually promoting. Tide claimed they’re all Tide ads—parodying car, beer, insurance, razor and soda ads—with the point that any ad with clean clothing must be a Tide ad.

The pharma send-up ran in the final quarter of the game in an ad where an older woman playing tennis suddenly clutches at her back after swinging her racket. Spokesman/narrator and actor David Harbour steps into the frame, saying somberly, “Sometimes the signs are hard to ignore … but whenever you see clothes this clean, that’s a Tide ad.”

The :15 ad finished with a happy foursome game of tennis as the seniors, plus Harbour, walk off arm-in-arm with new vigor, while a quick-paced voiceover parody of drug side effects intones: “Clean clothes may be an indication of a Tide ad. Tide users experience 10 times more cleaning power.”