By now, we all recognize the various tropes associated with pharma ads.
These commercials typically feature people with big smiles, usually exercising, dancing or engaged in some form of physical activity as a voiceover provides information about the common side effects of the drugs.
In addition, an underlying key to the ads are uplifting melodies that accompany the visual elements. Sonic branding is a critical, if not unsung, aspect of pharma advertising.
However, sometimes the score accompanying a prescription drug ad can be lacking or even repetitive. Finding the right sound to support a commercial can often be a daunting task for medical marketers.
To remedy this “scoreophobia,” or the fear of sonic deficiency, Philadelphia-based studio Big Howl and Los Angeles-based music production company Score a Score teamed up to produce a parody pharma ad.
“On average, every single advertising professional experiences chronic and severe Scoreophobia throughout their career. Are you tired of the agonizing search for sound in your ads?” the more than two-minute long ad asks.
In the commercial, the fictional Bravura (philomusicus rescriptade) is posited as the one-stop sonic solution for pharma and healthcare marketing.
Viewers seeking custom original music and sound design are encouraged to reach out to Score a Score, though they are warned that earworms, toe-tapping and “overly grateful brand clients” are listed as common side effects.
Humor hits deeper point
The campaign, while cheeky in nature, is produced in a way that has an authentic and legitimate feel, which was an intentional decision, according to Score a Score COO Jake Weinreb.
Since its release, most of the industry feedback has been about how accurate the ad is to the real-life pharma marketing process, he added. Even the name Bravura is meant to mimic the often Latin-derived names of prescription drugs.
The point of the ad was to use humor to underscore that while pharma marketers are behind other industries in terms of leveraging music and sounds in their creative, they’re starting to catch up.
Kevin J. Kelly Jr., a partner at Big Howl, pointed to ads for Novo Nordisk’s type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic, which features a parody of “Magic” by Pilot, as representing a recent change in how pharma companies sonically brand themselves.
Over the past few years, Kelly said these companies have embraced a greater musical breadth to their marketing beyond the use of trendy sounds like handclaps and whistles.
To get a sense of what sounds drugmakers will utilize in the future, he said industry observers should look at how contemporary brands like Uber or Postmates leverage sound to their advantage.
“If brands are open to it, production companies can offer a currency and a modern take on music rather than the same sounds that were in all the pharma spots over the last 20 years,” Kelly said.
Striking the right chord
With pharma advertising continuing to develop and mature on the sonic side of things, companies are seeking differentiation.
Weinreb said that most of his creative kickoff calls begin with brands explicitly asking to not sound like the “typical pharma spot.”
The goal of the Bravura ad was to bring attention to the power of sonic branding for pharma clients as they compete in increasingly competitive markets. Though there are no plans outlined for additional commercials, Weinreb said the two companies wouldn’t rule out producing another one.
While medical marketers have ground to make up with advertisers in other industries as it relates to using sound in commercials, production companies are also experiencing a sea change in terms of where their content is seen by consumers.
As the media landscape continues to flatten and evolve with the rising popularity of social media and non-broadcast mediums, the opportunity to produce a variety of engaging, unique content emerges, too.
Score a Score worked on a Biktarvy campaign for Gilead that ultimately resulted in a series of vignettes mirroring a mini-docuseries that were scored in a different way than it would’ve been if it was a minute-long ad on network TV, Weinreb noted.
TikTok’s ascendance to becoming one of the most widely-viewed media platforms in the world is largely built off its use of sound, which has presented both unique challenges and opportunities for advertisers.
Weinreb said while other apps like Instagram and Snapchat are muted upon opening, TikTok always has the sound on, which is how many trends, memes and songs go viral.
Though some may consider this happenstance, he said there is a lot of strategy involved in the choice of sound or even structure of the sound when it comes to advertising on the platform.
“Content itself is changing for a variety of reasons and not everything is broadcast now, which opens up the options for the types of content that can be released and the creative changes as well,” he said.