Bayer, Roche, Novo Nordisk, J&J, Novartis and Gilead among the Sweet 16 advancing in #FierceMadness DTC ad tourney

Fierce Madness 2021 DTC ads - Sweet 16
Voting now open for the next round of #FierceMadness! Help decide which ads will make the Elite 8. Winners of each matchup are shown in red. (Fierce Pharma Marketing)

The #FierceMadness DTC ad tournament is down to the Sweet 16.

And just like this weekend's NCAA March Madness surprises—Ohio State knocked out by Oral Roberts and Loyola topping Illinois to play through—the pharma ad matchups saw several smaller campaigns beating big ones. 

In a closely contested East battle, Roche's "Dear MS" campaign for Ocrevus topped Johnson & Johnson "Janssen Never Stops," a corporate campaign created during the pandemic to show its dedication to science and finding a vaccine. 

While one voter praised Janssen's work as a "great idea to reinforce the importance of the vaccine," Ocrevus' emotional and more visible "Dear MS" work won in the end. 

Commenters wrote that the ads "nail the tone for the patient audience" and gave it a thumbs-up for "simplicity." Several mentioned the younger people cast in the commercial, with one noting: "Nice touch incorporating millennial trends to make it relevant."

Also in the East, new contraceptive Phexxi from Evofem Biosciences toppled Dexcom's Super Bowl-launched ad campaign that featured celebrity singer Nick Jonas and high-tech special effects.

Phexxi got big points from voters for being "really different and disruptive for the category." Others called the campaign "catchy," "empowering for women" and "fun and fresh," while a handful of voted against Dexcom and celebrity hype. 

In the Midwest division, another smaller drug company, Biohaven, took out Pfizer's "Science Will Win" corporate effort which, much like the Janssen work, trumpeted its scientists' dedication during the pandemic. 

Biohaven's Nurtec social media and Khloe Kardashian reality star spokesperson effort—although dinged by the FDA in a recent letter citing one of her media interviews—topped the voting easily.

Kardashian got praise for her "clear, relatable and well spoken" outreach for Nurtec as a migraine sufferer herself. Many noted that as a "strong voice of the patient," she makes for an effective spokesperson. Another commenter wrote the ads are "extremely relevant. Migraine has been so prevalent during the stress of the pandemic."

Voting is now open to find the FierceMadness Elite 8. This round will be a short one, so start voting early on the next eight matchups. Pick your favorites and spread the word to co-workers and friends. Please be a good sport—only one vote per round per person.

(Editorial note: The 1-8 number labels on the DTC campaigns is not a ranking. The numbers were assigned randomly to mimic the feel of the real NCAA tournament.)

Don't forget to come back on Wednesday to find out which brands made it through.

Cast your ballots here for the Sweet 16 winners by 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday.


(8) Ocrevus vs. (4) Ozempic

Ad: Ocrevus “Dear MS”
Company: Roche
Roche aimed TV ads for its Ocrevus multiple sclerosis med at millennials. Young people tell the disease it doesn’t get to control their lives and hold up two fingers to signal just twice-yearly infusion treatments.

Ad: Ozempic “My Zone”
Company: Novo Nordisk
Comedian and actor Billy Gardell charted his real-life Type 2 diabetes struggle with exercise, weight and keeping healthy for Novo’s Ozempic brand, separate from its earworm-y "Oh Oh Ozempic" ads.

(2) Moderna vs. (6) Phexxi

Ad: Uber partnership for vaccine awareness and rides
Company: Moderna
Moderna partnered with Uber to educate drivers and passengers with an eye to the future and the potential for ride-sharing to spur vaccine use.

Ad: Phexxi “Get Phexxi”
Company: Evofem Biosciences
Evofem Biosciences launched its newly approved non-hormonal birth control gel with a sassy play on the brand name in its “Get Phexxi” campaign.


(1) Johnson & Johnson vs. (5) Nexletol

Ad: "The Road to a Vaccine"
Company: Johnson & Johnson
Just weeks into the pandemic last year, J&J debuted an ambitious weekly live series “Road to a Vaccine” with journalist host Lisa Ling. The almost yearlong show featured its own scientist and outside public health officials on a variety of COVID-19 topics.

Ad: Nexletol “Break the Cycle”
Company: Esperion
Esperion nabbed its first approval for Nexletol during the 2020 pandemic, but instead of putting off the DTC launch, it made an all-stock video TV commercial.

(2) Adakveo vs. (6) Biktarvy

Ad: Adakveo “Do U Dance”
Company: Novartis
Twitch, the celebrity dance and “Ellen” show DJ, challenged social media users to a do their own dance in Novartis’ Adakveo campaign, raising awareness of sickle cell disease.

Ad: Biktarvy “Keep Being You”
Company: Gilead Sciences
Gilead Sciences debuted its first national TV ads for triple combination HIV med Biktarvy with a positive message for HIV-positive people to keep creating, living, loving and being yourself.


(1) Bayer vs. (4) Sublocade 

Ad: "Why We Science"
Company: Bayer
Wrapping Bayer’s entire portfolio into one pre-pandemic corporate ad campaign, the pharma and agricultural giant highlighted products from aspirin to crop helpers to hemophilia meds.

Ad: Sublocade “Keep Moving Towards Recovery”
Company: Indivior
Indivior used positive images of recovery to tackle the stigma that surrounds opioids in first-ever TV advertising for its injected opioid use disorder treatment, Sublocade.

(2) Pfizer-BioNTech vs. (6) Cequa

Ad: “Remember Normal”
Company: Pfizer and BioNTech
Pfizer and BioNTech tap sentimental longing for pre-pandemic days with a campaign that looks forward to the promise of a more normal life with a COVID-19 vaccine.

Ad: Cequa “Battle Back”
Company: Sun Pharmaceutical
In its first DTC work for Cequa, Sun Pharma used a feather duster to the face—and humor—to show just how irritating overly dry eyes can be.


(4) Sunosi vs. (8) Nurtec

Ad: Sunosi “Stay Awake for Amazing Things”
Company: Jazz Pharmaceuticals
When pigs fly gets a literal interpretation in Jazz’s latest DTC work for Sunosi, a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. In TV and digital ads, a sleepy man doesn’t notice the flying pig, or much else.

Ad: Nurtec "Khloe Kardashian"
Company: Biohaven
Although Biohaven recently hit a bump in the road with Nurtec's supercelebrity spokesperson Khloe Kardashian, the partnership is grabbing plenty of notice with potential patients.

(2) Xofluza vs. (3) Dovato

Ad: Xofluza “Flattened by the Flu”
Company: Roche’s Genentech
Before COVID-19, there was the seasonal flu. Roche’s Genentech’s then-new work for influenza med Xofluza featured eye-catching visuals of “flattened” clothing trudging through the day with flu symptoms.

Ad: Dovato “Everything That I Am”
Company: GSK’s ViiV Healthcare
ViiV Healthcare used real patients in its first DTC work for its two-drug combo HIV medicine Dovato.