I’ve called out TV healthcare ads many times before not only for the incongruent strategy of showing people celebrating an unwanted buying experience (I love my laxative!) but also for the rubber stamp format: momentous music swells, people glowing with optimism cavort, cue the golden retriever, and so on. Well, the newest TV ad for Simparica® (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WxYQnqk028) , an oral flea and tick prophylactic for canines, teaches other drug companies a thing or two about how to get it right.
Pets as patients? That’s an unfair comparison, one might argue. Not so. In many ways the relationship between a doctor and a patient—a caregiver and a recipient—mirrors that between pet owners and their fur patients. An authority figure is positioned as the wise intermediary selecting therapy and feeling righteous about doing good, and the rule of ‘first do no harm’ aptly applies. But the genius of the execution lies in not only getting the message across, but more importantly getting the branding right. Just as any agency can show actors-as-doctors advocating for their actors-as-patients, so too can any agency can show full-color footage of pet owners playing with their dogs in the flea and tick haven of the great outdoors. However, this Simparica one-minute spot never shows the face of a single pet owner as other commercials do. (It captures a leg here, an arm there.) And it never shows real footage either. Instead we get studio-quality animation that’s as committed to the brand as the brand is committed to keeping man’s best friend at his/her best.
A variety of dogs are brightly illustrated and are wittily composed of brand claims such as “Lasts 35 Days” and “Wipes out ticks.” What otherwise might have been just a cute use of illustration—and the dogs are still very adorable—the technique creates an artistry of efficiency where the voice-over is reinforced visually where your eyes are glued…to the dogs themselves. Even the fair balance section—where a list of common adverse events is recited—is set to a dog trio playing Frisbee, again emphasizing the carefree prophylaxis only an oral agent can assure.
Additionally, the messages that construct the dogs’ bodies change frequently from the dog’s inner voice (“Gotta go out” “Wanna play now) to the brand claims themselves, compelling one to ‘keep reading’ and rewarding re-viewing when the spot comes on again. You not only want to marvel at the cleverness of the word-dogs, you also want to follow the narrative closely. To keep the visual effects fresh, intermixed with shots of the dogs playing are whimsical jabs at the competition—a literal image of a word-dog kicking dirt on Frontline® and NexGard®—and some humorous copywriting as a canine heading through the pet door back at home sports the phrase, “dogged protection.”
And dogged protection is the essence of the brand strategy. Had the spot been another ordinary, staged scenario of people and their dogs, it would be—by definition—off brand. Phoning it in is not commitment. The brand personality is certainly in the visual hallmarks of color, typography and logo, but more importantly in overall strategic intent. This is what most healthcare brands miss: the execution itself fails to deliver the strategy, as you plainly see in a recent commercial for Opioid Induced Constipation and Movantik®, where the serious personality of the brand (the patient’s name is Frank) is demolished by a sophomoric smirk on the actor’s face as he recalls the doctor punning, “how long have you been holding this in?” Wha-wha.
Kudos to Guidemark Health and its client, Zoetis, for having the artistic integrity to remain faithful to the brand’s commitment to the pet-owner/caregiver. So for the record, I am not against TV ads for healthcare brands, just intolerant of agencies and manufacturers who insist on selling health in the same way that iPhones, beer and trucks are sold—what I call The Celebration Fallacy. The Simparica brand proves that you don’t have to sacrifice brand equity in pursuit of an attention-grabbing ad.
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