The second in a pair of complementary spots for AbbVie’s immunology drug Humira recently hit airwaves, and while it shed some light on the mysterious ad that preceded it, the sequence has elicited a mixed reaction from patients.
It’s not unusual for drug commercials to prompt a range of feedback, including positive and negative reactions from patients and doctors. This case is unusual, though, given the way AbbVie creatively sequenced the ads and focused on the impact disease can have on family.
The first commercial, called “There for Them,” aired in January. It features a soundtrack of melancholy piano music playing over scenes of adults excusing themselves from key moments with family–meals, basketball games, etc.–to deal with what is ostensibly stomach discomfort but what we will later discover is actually Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
“You may not realize something is missing. You,” reads the text at the end, following shots of the sufferers’ children gazing longingly for their absent parent. The spot features neither dialogue nor product branding.
Clarity comes in the second, follow-up ad, called “Missing.” Premiering a few days after the first, it features the same characters as the initial spot, only this time with voices. “I thought I was managing my moderate to severe Crohn’s disease, but then I realized something was missing. Me,” a male voice intones. “My symptoms were keeping me from being there.” The follow-up introduces Humira, and with it, the erstwhile suffering father’s regained ability to enjoy spending uninterrupted time with his daughter.
AbbVie has spent an estimated $15.3 million this year running the two spots on national TV, along with one other for the same indication, according to ad measurement platform iSpot.tv. The ads were created by Publicis North America.
The campaign is part of an initiative meant to elevate the discussion of IBD to focus on not just sufferers themselves, but the impact the disease has on loved ones, a spokesperson for AbbVie said. It’s grounded in research from patients themselves, who lamented that a particularly painful aspect of IBD is being forced to miss important moments.
“We created this campaign to help increase dialogue about these challenges, as well as to encourage patients to talk to their doctor to make sure they are receiving a treatment that is right for them,” the spokesperson said.
While innovative, the initial spot was hit with a wave of criticism from those who felt it placed unnecessary guilt and blame on IBD patients.
“This is an absolutely horrible commercial!,” one commenter wrote about the first ad on iSpot.tv, which archived both ads. There were 75 comments, as of press time. “I can assure you that people that are suffering with this disorder fully realize all that they are missing.”
“This is insulting and rubbing salt in an open wound,” wrote another.
Not everyone found the ad distasteful, though. As one Crohn’s sufferer wrote on her blog, Lights Camera Crohn’s: “As a mom who’s battled Crohn’s disease for almost 13 years, this is the first time I’ve seen a commercial about IBD and related to it 100%.”
Asked about the mixed reception, AbbVie said, “We appreciate the feedback shared, both from those who recognized these challenges as ones their family has faced and those who felt it was not relevant to their personal experience, and we will continue to listen to the community.”
This isn’t the first time drug ads have drawn patient ire. A spot for a Biogen multiple sclerosis drug in 2016 irked some, who said the ad “misrepresents” sufferers of the disease. Bristol-Myers Squibb’s “A Chance to Live Longer” campaign for Opdivo was panned by some patients and caregivers that same year as overhyping the immuno-oncology drug’s benefits.