Many pharma ads are set in sun-dappled meadows or expansive family kitchens, with the smiling protagonist (often accompanied by a loyal golden retriever) beaming in a manner that suggests all ailments have long since been remedied. Then there’s “Patch and Play,” a new spot for Agile Therapeutics’ contraceptive patch Twirla that unfolds in a very different milieu: the women’s bathroom of dance club.
After one woman watches her pill fall down the drain of the bathroom sink, it starts a conversation about contraception. Another woman in the group then shares her decision to use a contraceptive patch instead of a pill, IUD or other option.
The setting is all about the “authenticity and transparency” in which the brand hopes to ground itself, according to Agile VP of marketing Amy Welsh.
Welsh said that the company’s market research revealed a fundamental truth about its intended audience. “It’s that they rely on each other,” she explained. “This is a brand that should be patient-first and relationship-first.”
Heartbeat co-president and executive creative director James Talerico, whose agency is responsible for the campaign, puts it slightly more bluntly. “We know they are a skeptical audience,” he said. “They laugh at ads in testing and stereotypical communications wouldn’t get us very far. There was also skepticism around pitchmen or celebrities, and questions about whether they come off as authentic.”
The ad was directed by Maya Albanese, known for both her commercial and documentary work. Both Welsh and Talerico described Albanese’s input as essential to the spot’s effectiveness.
“Maya showed a real deft management of female talent and an ability to bring out performances that showed authentic relationships between women,” Talerico said. “Direction is about framing and management of the set, but it’s really about managing actresses and, in this case, young actresses.”
Beyond Albanese, most of the crew for the spot, from line producers to lighting designers, were women.
“I did not want this to feel like a pharmaceutical marketing ad,” Welsh stressed. “Maya got it, because this feels like it could be from an episode of Euphoria. She is a beautiful storyteller.”
With the spot complete, Welsh and Talerico next had to get it in front of audiences. To maximize Agile’s limited budget, they chose connected TV (CTV) as the campaign’s principal platform.
“We put a toe in the water with geotargeting,” Welsh explained. “If we go to five states, we can reach almost 50% of the 18- to 24-year-old women we are trying to reach. Let’s go small and see if this can work…. CTV was perfect for a budget that wasn’t the biggest in the world for something that needed to be strategic and get in front of the right eyeballs at the right time.”
According to Welsh and Talerico, 90% of viewers are watching the spot through to the end. They cite this as evidence that its honest and direct tone has genuinely resonated among the target audience.
“They can manage their own sexuality and contraception decisions,” said Welsh.
“Amy has said to me many times that intelligent women make intelligent choices — and I think that is what this ad is about,” Talerico added.