Valeant, AstraZeneca played the Super Bowl ad game, but did they win?

AstraZeneca's Super Bowl ad

Not to be left on the sidelines, several pharma companies took to the airwaves Sunday for the biggest ad show of the year, also known as the Super Bowl. With one of the largest consumer audiences on TV, dozens of advertisers jockey to get their messages in the game, this year at an estimated $5 million per 30 seconds.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) nabbed two spots, one for its IBS-D fighter Xifaxan and another for anti-fungal cream Jublia. It was the second year in a row that Jublia appeared in the big game.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca ($AZN) ran an unbranded :60 spot addressing opioid-induced constipation, encouraging people to talk to their doctors "and ask about prescription treatment options." The ad included a callout to the website, where users who click on the prescription option button are taken to the home page for Movantik, AZ's OIC branded treatment.

However, just being in the Bowl doesn't guarantee success with the cheese dip and beer-drinking crowd. In the all-important social conversation around the game, pharma spots ranked in the middle of the pack or even lower, according to real-time TV tracker's metrics on Monday morning.

Valeant's Xifaxan Super Bowl ad

AZ's OIC spot ranked highest among the pharma group at No. 28 for total social impressions, garnering more than 26 million by mid-Monday morning. Xifaxan, which debuted a follow up to its current campaign with new creative in which the 'Gut Guy' races to the restroom at a football game, ranked No. 54. Jublia continued its celebrity star theme, this time with former football players Howie Long, Deion Sanders and Phil Simms at a posh foot salon, ranked No. 68.

All three ads tanked in USA Today's annual viewer poll and came in at the very bottom of the list of its 63 consumer-ranked ads: AZ's OIC was No. 60, Xifaxan was No. 62 and Jublia came in dead last at No. 63. 

NPR dubbed the three as the "worst reference to bodily functions" in its Monday morning assessment of the Super Bowl ads with its puzzled critic writing: "The Super Bowl is known for inspiring lots of eating and lavish spreads of food. So why would advertisers pay millions to air ads focusing on constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and toe fungus?"

Still, post-game media coverage included many mentions of the drugs, including Entertainment Weekly's "Twitterverse finds unofficial Super Bowl mascot in diarrhea medication commercial" article and Mashable's "Poop Poop had its very own Super Bowl 50 moment," referring to AZ's OIC ad.

In another healthcare ad fare in the game: Pfizer ($PFE) ran its first Super Bowl ad for Advil in 14 years, but only managed to come in at No. 59 with 2.8 million social impressions. There were 95 national ads aired during the Super Bowl, according to, although more than 20 were promotions for other CBS network TV shows.

- watch the AZ ad
- watch the Jublia ad
- watch the Xifaxan ad
- read NPR's story
- see EW's article
- read the Mashable post
- here's the USA Today poll

Special Report: Top 10 most advertised prescription drug brands