Iconic DTC Advertising

Ads for Doritos are wild. Ads for pharmaceutical medications are not. Can’t be. Welcome to the world of pharmaceutical advertising, the “Sea of Sameness.”  We rarely see iconic DTC Advertising.

To be successful, DTC advertising does not have to be iconic.  Successful ads engage the audience, deliver compelling messages, and develop “branded memorability” that triggers action.  We provide cases example of these elements in a prior posting.

Half a Billion Spent for Diabetes Advertising in 2023

Was it worth it?  Consider these two ads in the Type 2 Diabetes:

  • Mounjaro:
    • Beyond the standard A1C message, it talks about weight loss – which is a very hot topic in that category!
    • However, this message is only delivered 30 seconds into the ad.  Many patients are not watching by this point.  A large percentage of these ads are skippable.
  • Jardiance:
    • It engages right away with its “Broadway Musical” approach.  A lady joyfully singing, “I have Type Two diabetes but I manage it well…”
    • Patients are hooked from the start.  This unique approach delivers “branded memorability.”   This will set it apart from other brands in the category.

The main difference between these ads is engagement and branded memorability.  While Mounjaro is likely to have huge sales due to the weight loss benefit, the ad itself may underperform.  Patients struggle to remember the name of any brand in the diabetes category.  The Mounjaro ad is part of the “sea of sameness” and it probably will be difficult for patients to recall the brand name.

By comparison, the Jardiance ad is highly engaging and memorable.  Even if the target patients do not recall the brand name, they can ask about a brand with a “singing lady.”  The doctor will know what they are talking about.  This overcomes the branding problem.

It is worth nothing that the Jardiance ad is triggering a mixed public response with some “hating” it.  However, we must be very careful in how we interpret that response.  Most of those people are not target patients.  They are part of the peanut gallery and cannot relate.  You have to break some eggs to make an omelette.

What Does Truly Iconic DTC Advertising Look Like?


This month, we saw the launch of the campaign for Airsupra, which could be truly iconic DTC advertising. It starts with a patient crammed into a car with a dinosaur.  Definitely engaging.  And even better, the ad develops the message that Airsupra is the next generation medication for asthma.  Like the Jardiance ad, if the patient does not recall the Airsupra name they can simply ask about the ad with a dinosaur.  The doctor knows what they mean.

The “Bit of a Dinosaur” campaign has the potential to become both heuristic and iconic, akin to successful campaigns like Symbicort’s “Wolf” or Spiriva’s “Elephant.”

AstraZeneca is leveraging this highly novel approach to trigger a shift in the ways that patients perceive asthma treatment. Shortly after approval of the medication, Elizabeth Bodin, VP of U.S. respiratory and immunology at AstraZeneca, said: “It’s an energizing space for any marketer to operate in because when you take something where you need to cause a paradigm shift and couple it with an area of high unmet need that has a big impact on patients, that’s consistent with what we’re trying to do strategically as an organization to transform care for patients.” With high-impact marketing, AstraZeneca is poised to trigger this paradigm shift relatively quickly.