The Top 10 DTC Ads of 2016

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Mary Skoyles, president and director of media at Medical Media Services, has been leading the media charge for pharma companies for nearly four decades. So when she gives her big-picture assessment of DTC on TV in early 2017, she does so with a tried-and-true career's worth of context.

Read the 2017 DTC Report: Patients are taking on DTC ads. How will drugmakers respond?

Her take on 2016's offerings? Pretty, pretty good. “A couple of years ago when we did this, I couldn't come up with 10. I did, but only because you wouldn't let me stop at six,” she says with a laugh. “This year, I might have been able to go to 12 or 13. There's a lot of interesting work being done. There are more chances being taken.”

Without further ado, here are Skoyles' picks for the Top 10 pharma DTC ads of 2016.




1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Becky's Tip and Rebecca's Tip (unbranded) 

I'm happy to report that I'm a former smoker. That said, quitting was the hardest thing I've ever done. So this series of smoking-cessation ads really grabbed me. The message it delivers — “you don't just compromise your health, you compromise your freedom as well” — is phenomenal. It's a different approach and it makes a lot of sense to me.




2. Gilead Sciences: Hepatitis C and Baby Boomers (unbranded)

This one really spoke to me. I never knew anything about hep C, much less about how baby boomers are particularly susceptible to it. Even when I looked it up online, I didn't feel I got a straight answer. 

This one works because it's simple: It notes that many baby boomers might have hepatitis C, but not know it because it can stay in your system for years without any outward symptoms. Then the ad says, “Please ask your doctor to have your blood specifically checked for this if you're a baby boomer, because it's not part of a regular blood test,” but does it in a way that doesn't make you terrified. 

The outdoor images really help with the tone. I wasn't sure about Gilead's I'm Ready ads from last year, but this one feels different. It connects.




3. Allergan/Viberzi: The Big Meeting and Abdominal Pain 

What can I say? I love Irritabelle. She's really appealing, even as she's portraying something that's totally not, which is an irritable bowel. What the Viberzi team has done really well is find a bunch of widely varying scenarios for the character, which has kept her fresh — even funny. This campaign could go on for a long time if they keep coming up with new situations.




4. Allergan/Botox: Refuse to Lie Down and Frustrated 

There's a neat visual trick here: The patient looks as if she's on the bed, but she's really standing up. It changes your orientation, in a good way, and reinforces the message that you can do something about migraines.

Whoever's making the Botox ads is having a really good run. I also thought the one about overactive bladder, with the woman at the airport shown with a real sense of relief, worked well.




5. Astellas/Myrbetriq: Texting 

This is another ad where the team got the character just right — that little bladder with big eyes comes off as almost a small child, always pulling the lady with an overactive bladder one way or another. 

When she finally says, “Enough, we're going to the doctor,” the surprised look on the bladder's face gets me. The messaging is fine and to the point. They've changed it over the course of the campaign, but not much. Smart call.




6. Novartis/Entresto: Tomorrow 

How often does one of these pharma campaigns use music well? I know people are really split on this one, but it has an appeal and a positivity that hit me in the right place.

You have an older fellow singing “the sun will come out tomorrow,” from Annie, a little longingly, then other people in the same age range chime in, singing the song while in more active situations. The one that really got me was when the grandfather sings it while holding his grandchild. The positivity — if you're experiencing a terrible problem like this, a positive attitude can only help. That's a good note to sound.




7 and 8. Merck/Keytruda: It's TRU: Sharon's Story, and Bristol-Myers Squibb/Opdivo: Most Prescribed Immunotherapy 

I put these two together because they're similar in that they deliver very, very technical and detailed ad messages about non-small cell lung cancer. They hit some of the same notes — especially that these drugs are alternatives to chemotherapy, which beats cancer patients up.



They emphasize the message of living well. There's also an economy of language, which is really tough to accomplish when you're talking about such horrific conditions as this, and none of what I call the “fear factor.” The Keytruda approach is a little more emotional — you have the patient and her family getting ready for a photo shoot. The Opdivo approach centers more on the brand name and awareness.




9. Amgen/Neulasta: Support at Home 

This is really sensitively handled. It's about the day after chemotherapy and the device and drug that make it so you don't have to go back to the doctor for another shot.

It shows how home comforts — the husband pushing hair away from his wife's eyes, the walk outside with the dog — are so impor­tant and relieving. My heart goes out to the poor woman. She looks as if she's been put through the ringer.




10. AstraZeneca/Movantik: Frank's Moment 

The current featured person is a construction worker, but it's interesting how they've varied characters over the course of the campaign. That's a really good idea.

I don't necessarily relate to the person in this one, but by changing the people, they've kept the basic premise fresh. It's almost as if each ad is another chapter in the same book. That kind of continuity is something you rarely get in pharma.

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