Klick brings tiny, trash-talking wrestler to new Novartis disease awareness work

Campaign creator Klick sought a distinct departure from typical pharma creative for its latest Novartis work.(Klick Health)

Pharma’s newest spokescharacter is a tiny, trash-talking professional wrestler. He’s part of a new disease awareness campaign for carcinoid syndrome from Novartis, created by Klick Health.

The gaudy, spandex-wearing wrestler, like persistent stomach pain and gastrointestinal issues, won’t leave a suffering man alone—punching, kicking and trash-talking him through everyday life. The TV spot, interactive display banners and social media posts direct people to a “What Am I Wrestling With” website that suggests constant sufferers may need to consider a different diagnosis.

The site introduces carcinoid syndrome, a rare condition caused by hormones released by an abnormal growth called a carcinoid tumor. As it notes, carcinoid tumors “are very uncommon and are usually small and slow-growing.” However, the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome include GI issues, such as recurring diarrhea, as well as maladies such as irregular heartbeat, skin flushing and difficult breathing. The site includes a 30-second self-quiz about signs and symptoms.

While the campaign is disease awareness only and doesn’t mention or link to any branded products, Novartis is the maker of Sandostatin LAR, a $1.6 billion seller that's used to treat acromegaly and severe diarrhea and flushing associated with carcinoid syndrome. That drug is facing generic erosion from a slew of companies this year, including Teva, Sun Pharma, Sagent Pharmaceuticals and Wockhardt.

Klick interviewed dozens of people who have the kinds of persistent GI problems the campaign seeks to highlight to check their reaction to the work, from the wrestler TV and banner ads that talk about GI discomfort to a website that raises the possibility of this type of cancer. The agency said it got no negative feedback.

“While it might seem at first blush as a mismatch between tone and the information or the possibility that it ultimately raises, I think we’re bringing more of our own biases or expectations than actually exists in people that are in that dynamic,” Elliot Langerman, chief creative officer at Klick, said in an interview.

Creatively, the agency’s intent was for the advertising to be a distinct departure from typical pharma creative. Langerman told the team if the ad had “people walking on the beach or engaging in moderate to mildly active lifestyle activities,” it would have failed.

That’s when the creative team came up with the pro wrestler as a direct and humorous way to talk about the GI symptoms.

“Sometimes humor can feel inappropriate because you are dealing with discomfort and people’s health and it’s easy to say ‘well, that’s never funny,'" Langerman said. "But we also know humor is a way to disarm potentially embarrassing topics and normalize a conversation that’s important to have.”

The media plan for the TV ad uses national addressable TV to narrowly target its intended audience, versus a scattershot mainstream buy. Digital media include 16 live-action banner ads as well as social media.