Ad agency: Undisclosed
Scary pharma ads attract plenty of debate, and frankly, there was a bumper crop this year. GlaxoSmithKline’s whooping cough grandma who morphed into a big bad wolf as she held her infant grandchild. Novartis’ slowly flooding room designed to illustrate the quiet dangers of heart disease. Pfizer’s Trumenba meningitis B warning with a mom at her teen son’s hospital bed. They were all examples of pharma ads that captured our attention in part because they frightened people.
While we’re not advocating fear-mongering in itself, the truth is that illness and disease are scary. The GSK, Novartis and Pfizer ads were effective precisely because they got people to listen to messages about threats they may not have considered but can take action to address. Fear as a motivator only works as a tactic, of course, when a campaign doesn’t go too far or last too long.
The two ads we chose as our fear finalists were Merck’s Zostavax warning for the shingles virus “lurking inside” and Mylan’s depiction of an allergic young woman’s downward spiral after she accidentally eats a peanut butter brownie.
The Zostavax departure worked in part because it was a jolting change from the vaccine’s more comedic support in previous ads, which featured Terry Bradshaw as the funny buddy going into homes with a friendly warning.
However, the Mylan allergy ad took on food allergies in a way they never had been. Food allergies are so common these days that almost everyone knows someone who’s in danger, but few have seen the scary force of an anaphylactic reaction. As one #FierceMadness voter noted, “Brilliantly scary. It's like a mini horror movie.”
The ad debuted just months before Mylan’s EpiPen pricing scandal broke, and as that debate unfolded, it was pulled off the air. But in the four months that the Face Your Risk TV ad aired, it created conversation and moved the needle on awareness. Real-time TV tracker iSpot.tv scores a TV ad’s engagement with a formula that measures digital activity triggered by the ad, compared to all other campaigns on TV. Face Your Risk got an 8.7 out of 10. The industry average is 3.4.
Another measure that shows its impact? The ad is still on YouTube and has more than 5.5 million views.
On a personal note, some people have complained that the ad is unnecessarily scary, but having lived through anaphylaxis with my food-allergic child, I can say the depiction of what happens, how it looks, and how quickly it can all go down is extremely accurate. Yes, it is scary, but it also succinctly answers the question that many people without allergies often ask (usually with some level of skepticism): “How bad is it?” It’s that bad.