Novo Nordisk debuts animated Rybelsus ad after COVID-19 nixed film shoot

An animated TV ad in Novo Nordisk's first DTC campaign for oral Type 2 diabetes drug Rybelsus features a sunny, upbeat style. (Novo Nordisk)

Novo Nordisk’s first DTC ad for Rybelsus shows an animated world that looks a lot better than the real one currently does. But the sunny cartoon world wasn't Novo's original plan.

When COVID-19 nixed all company travel, major production cities in California and New York shut down. The Danish drugmaker suddenly faced the challenge of how to launch a drug during a pandemic.

“As we started to explore (options), animation came to the forefront," Ed Cinca, vice president of Novo Nordisk’s GLP-1 portfolio, said. "I think it turned out better than we ever imagined."

While the goal for the launch was always to stand out in the crowded diabetes DTC space, animation was never on the table before the pandemic. The reimagined 90-second spot, titled “Wake Up," features eye-catching animation of people all around the country having a great time. It's accompanied by a hip, punk version of “You Are My Sunshine.”

RELATED: Novo Nordisk, unscathed by COVID-19, enters 'strike mode' with diabetes launch Rybelsus

Visuals aside, the animation serves an even more important purpose, Cinca pointed out.

"What’s center to the spot is demonstrating that this is the first and only oral GLP-1, and it works in a unique way," he said. "What really is great about the animation is that it affords us the opportunity to be very clear and explicit about how it works in three ways.” 

Cinca also wants people to see the ad as a form of hope.

“I think that's what people really need right now, regardless of their situation, but particularly for those who are suffering with Type 2 diabetes," he said. "(They) not only have the burden of the worry that is Type 2, but also the realities of the stresses that COVID places on it."

Rybelsus nabbed FDA approval in September 2019 and shares the same active ingredient as Novo's Ozempic. That drug, a weekly injectable, scored an FDA green light in December 2017 and has since soared to blockbuster status.

With Rybelsus, Novo is targeting patients who are newly diagnosed as well as patients looking for other options in managing blood sugar and weight.

RELATED: Novo's next-gen GLP-1 Ozempic smashes blockbuster barrier amid ramp-up for Rybelsus rollout

In the first half this year, Rybelsus generated $92 million, beating analysts' expectations. Meanwhile, Ozempic's sales of $1.5 billion during the same time period made it Novo Nordisk’s top seller. The pandemic boosted overall sales due to insulin stocking, but that bump was tempered by fewer patients starting treatment, the company reported.