Wine with that cheese? Ad agency recruiting event lampoons the 'pharma cheese' in ads

FCB Health agency Neon's "pharma cheese" ad generator screen shot
Screenshot of pharma and healthcare ad agency Neon's online "pharma cheese" ad generator, used to help recruit creative thinkers (Neon)

“Pharma cheese” isn’t some novel dairy concoction, but instead one New York ad agency’s parody of the lackluster work in the industry. To recruit innovative and unique pharma ad industry thinkers, Neon, an FCB Health network agency, recently held an art exhibition and meetup.

The “art,” however, is lacking a bit, as it comes directly from Neon’s “Pharma Cheese Generator,” an automated mix-and-match ad creator using mock brands and cliché imagery around real conditions. Users can choose migraine, for instance, along with “beach you’ll never visit” and get a print ad for the fictitious drug “Fiascor" with a hazy family-walking-on-the-beach image and the directive to “Imagine the potential possibilities of the moment.”

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“It’s meant to be a parody of the so-so bland work that we all too often experience in the industry,” said Kevin McHale, Neon’s managing creative director.

“There’s a lot of work out there that looks almost templated. So we created this templated cheese generator that would spoof and parody these mock brands with conditions and create mock ads with some of the clichés you see in the industry," Mike Gordon, creative director and co-creator of the generator, added.

With multiple choices for condition categories and clichés, along with a broad Neon-created database of images and copy, there are more than 8 million potential different combinations for cheesy ads, said Rod Scheck, creative director of copy and the other co-creator of the generator.

While the generator has been online since February, the live event was a chance to not only discuss the faux subpar work but also to invite potential recruits to meet up with senior execs and recruiters.

“Pharma cheese” was created as a recruiting tool, but it’s also been helpful for Neon to show clients and potential clients about the mediocre work that’s out there. The creatives sometimes dial up the generator when clients ask what the competition is doing and compare the fake ads with real work that looks sadly similar.

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McHale said it’s helpful to show pharma marketers the generic slice-of-life ads that often “get greenlit because there is a risk aversion from the healthcare industry in terms of being out there a little bit.”

The generator allows users to mark up the faux ads to make improvements, add comments, post to social media or even send to the agency—which many potential recruits did this year in advance of agency interviews, McHale said.

“We want to create a dialogue around the type of work we create here and the kind of work that we want to do, which is above and beyond the ‘pharma cheese’ mentality,” he said, adding that the goal is to “find people that have that drive to be part of something that wants to raise the bar creatively in the industry.”