Toenail fungus, IBS drugs headline pharma Super Bowl play



The Denver Broncos' upset over the Carolina Panthers wasn't the only surprise on Super Bowl Sunday. Two drugmakers doled out huge sums to advertise their brands in the third most-watched program in US television history.

Super Bowl 50 was pharma's biggest turnout in three years. No ads appeared in 2014 and only one ran last year, according to iSpot.tv.

The ads, two branded spots developed by Valeant Pharmaceuticals and another unbranded spot from AstraZeneca, addressed what some critics panned as less-than-appealing conditions for such a broad audience. USA Today's annual Ad Meter ranked all three ads in the bottom five of this year's Super Bowl crop.

Stephen Neale, executive creative director at healthcare agency AbelsonTaylor, said pitting pharma's efforts against those of the auto, film and technology industries is an unfair comparison. “It's always a difficult task to find a breakthrough idea that can hold its own with the rest of the Super Bowl ads," he explained. "You need to create something that's OPDP approvable and use emotion outside of humor to sell your brand."

(The FDA's Office of Prescription Drug Promotion regulates pharmaceutical advertising.)

George Belch, professor of marketing at San Diego State University, criticized the timing of the ads, saying “Given what you're up against with all the humor, the celebrities and really big productions, I just don't think it works that well,” according to the The Wall Street Journal.

An ad for Jublia, a toenail fungus treatment, made its second Super Bowl showing. Valeant Pharmaceuticals took a different creative approach for Super Bowl 50. Last year's fully-animated spot featured a big toe tacking the floating words “toenail fungus” across a football field. This year it got the celebrity treatment, bringing in football legends Howie Long, Deion Sanders and Phil Simms.

The ad begins with a man seated at a bar celebrating a touchdown. As he raises his fists in the air, he hits a lamp attached to a wall shooting him into a spa-like oasis where Long, Sanders and Simms are dressed in white robes soaking their feet. The trio question the sandal-wearing intruder and his toenail fungus, saying: “How did he get in here? And with toenail fungus?” An animated big toe, sporting a Jublia-branded eye mask, swings in on a chandelier and proceeds to attack the floating words “toenail fungus” around the spa.


Valeant spent $4.9 million for the 30-second spot, according to estimates from iSpot.tv. The ad resulted in 68 million TV impressions.

Jublia launched in the end of June 2014. It generated $206 million in sales in the first nine months of 2015.

Valeant also plugged Xifaxan, its treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, employing an animated intestine in an ad called Football Game. During a bout of abdominal pain and diarrhea, the animated organ dashes to the bathroom only to stare down a long line. Two weeks later, after taking Xifaxan, the intestine struts back into a football stadium without fear of having to make a mad-dash mid game.


The drugmaker doled out $9.8 million for the 60 second spot, according to estimates from iSpot.tv. It resulted in 59 million TV impressions.

Xifaxan became part of Valeant's portfolio last year when the drugmaker acquired Salix Pharmaceuticals. In the second and third quarters of 2015, Xifaxan brought in sales of $368 million. Valeant launched an integrated campaign for the drug on October 5.

AstraZeneca developed an unbranded spot to generate awareness for opioid-induced constipation. The ad, Envy, follows a man with the condition, showing his unease at how routine going to the bathroom is for seemingly everyone he encounters. As he watches a smiling man exit the bathroom, a voiceover tells viewers: “If you need an opioid to manage your chronic pain you may be so constipated it feels like everyone can go—except you.”

AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo in March partnered to sell Movantik, an opioid-induced constipation drug, in a deal worth up to $825 million. AstraZeneca developed Movantik and Daiichi Sankyo paid $200 million upfront for to co-market the drug. Movantik brought in sales of $29 million in 2015. The drug was approved by the FDA in September 2014.

AstraZeneca spent $9.8 million on the 60-second spot—according to estimates from iSpot.tv—which resulted in 56 million TV impressions.

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