The power of illustration should never be underestimated, especially in pharmaceutical advertising.  Not because it can provide anatomical detail, but because it can be used to communicate in unexpected and imaginative ways.

Within an illustration, complex information may become easier to understand. But more importantly, with or without words by its side, an illustration can tell a story.  And when a health-related message is illustrated, its story can connect with a larger audience.

Think about how powerful visual metaphors can be. They make an instant emotional connection.  A personal insight may be more easily expressed and recognized in an illustration than in words alone.

When using illustration, we depend on its visual impact to make a memorable impression. And its most successful use is when it invites the person who sees it to feel as though they are a part of it. Here are some imaginative uses of illustration in ads from around the world where every picture draws us into a deeper story.


Benzac pool
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Colombia
Client: Galderma
Medical illustration and miniaturization help turn this ad’s story into an important insight.  Most people do see a blemish in a magnified way—as a barrier to having fun.


Gralise pain doll
Agencies: The CementBloc and Depomed
Client: Gralise
Using a cute little ragdoll like a pin cushion is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of shingles.  But why should a message about pain have to look painful? I had to study this ad for a few seconds to be sure what it was for.  But that’s part of what engaged my interest.


When they rub each other the wrong way
Agency: Sorento Healthcare Communications, Mumbai, India
Client: Sammy 400
Who doesn’t appreciate a struggle between superhero and super villain? This execution is counting on it. I have to wonder if everyone who it’s meant for will get the reference. But for the generations that do, with or without osteoarthritis, this illustration speaks to a large and loyal fan following.

Agency: TBWA, Thailand
Client: Kryoga
This drawing succeeds in bringing both anatomical and narrative messages together in a subtle and meaningful way.  The classic style of skeletal rendering leans towards the expected, but the well-integrated drawing of the bent figure that replaces the joint completes the story.  It’s smart and surprising.  The prescription it’s selling is for yoga.


Agency: DDB Singapore
Client: Breast Cancer Awareness
Mixing messages works well here, especially for a female audience.  This striking poster for Breast Cancer Awareness is a unique way of asking young women if they are obsessed with the “right things.”

Gift someone a new life
Agency: DDB Dubai, UAE
Client: Committee of Organ Donation in Lebanon
The simplicity of this illustration is beautiful and the sentiment of the message is wonderfully precise.  An illustration does not have to be complex to have a powerful impact.

Audrey Fleisher is VP, Group Creative Director at Digitas Health