Monday, October 26, 2009

You can get a prescription for that

So many have written about this subject, I wonder if I will touch on anything that hasn't already been expressed. Still, I am compelled to deal with the topic because advertising plays such a significant role in influencing people's attitudes about their health.

Television is flooded with pharmaceutical advertisements. I recently heard a radio personality claim that 55% of commercials airing on TV now are for prescription medications. I have fruitlessly scoured the Internet for verification of this number, but I recall my reaction to that number wasn't surprise or disbelief. It was more a sad acceptance that it may be true. Every day we are bombarded with TV, radio, print and web advertisements for prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to treat countless conditions.

Medicines clearly are critical to the health and well-being of the human race. Pharmaceutical manufacturers spend tens of millions on R&D for many drugs that never receive FDA approval. So when they bring a drug to market, they need to reap the financial rewards for the life of the patent and beyond to fill the coffers to fund development of new remedies.

My concern isn't with drugs that deal with real diseases and afflictions like cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Hodgkin’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, autism, and hundreds of others that affect a significant percentage of the population. I take issue with pharmaceutical manufacturers that create new elixirs, or remix or reposition an existing drug (sometimes just after the patent has expired) to treat obscure or rare syndromes or disorders. You’ve seen and heard the advertisements for these products. Analyzed with a careful read, an acute ear and a keen mind has to make one question the legitimacy of the problem being addressed and the potential size of the universe being served.

This is the first entry in a series of posts dealing with this controversial and emotionally-charged topic. I intend to look at the issue holistically, and consider the attitudes, roles and responsibilities of the major players; specifically, pharmaceutical manufacturers, physicians, government and consumers. Naturally, I will take up the role of advertising, and the responsibilities of the agency in shaping people’s understanding of the products and the health issues they address.

Can I deftly discuss this topic without eliciting an angry response (perhaps several)? Probably not. Should be fun, and hopefully, educational.

Check back real soon for the next post…it’s almost finished.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I heard it on the radio

How many of us notice commercials when listening to the radio?

For that matter, how focused are we on the programming on the radio station of choice? How engaged are we with the content being delivered? I suppose it depends on why we have the radio on; is it serving as background noise, or are we listening to a specific program? When it’s the latter, who amongst us doesn’t leave the room, turn our attention to something else, or change stations when a program segment ends only to return to that station after the commercial break?

I have to admit that I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to radio commercials; at times, I zone out, ignore them or change stations.

I’m at my worst when I’m driving. My wrist is resting on the gear shift in the center console and I have my finger on the pre-programmed or Seek or Scan buttons prepared to change stations once a commercial break begins. It’s akin to channel surfing with a TV remote.

(Yes, I like to punish my passengers.)

Despite this behavior, a few commercials have caught my attention. Almost without exception, it had something to do with the intelligence and aesthetics of the commercial, and less to do with the advertiser or product or service being promoted. I suspect that says more about me than the advertiser, product or service. As a creative, I tend to observe advertising through a different lens (perhaps I should say I listen to radio commercials via a different ear).

So what attributes conspire to make an attention-arresting radio commercial? I believe it must have some very distinct qualities:

+ Excellent premise
+ Superb script
+ Unusual voices
+ Catchy music, music bed and/or sound effects (SFX)
+ Outstanding delivery

Rarely does a radio commercial work without some kind of audio hook. Rarely is a radio commercial compelling with a vanilla voice delivering the message. A straight delivery by the local DJ or even hired talent blends in and fails to grab the ear (unless the voice is of someone famous). The characters must either possess a unique voice, or absolutely flawless timing, diction and delivery, often on top of an awesome music bed or accented by some dynamite sound effects.

The Identity Guard commercial is a prime example. All four talents, three males and a female, have big and unusual voices. The spot is purposefully over-the-top in a very engaging manner. It opens with a professional announcer pronouncing the benefits of Identity Guard in a bold, booming voice. Three customer testimonials are interspersed. The first, a female, uses a ridiculous “bubblewrap inside of something inside of something else inside a tank or vault analogy” to describe Identity Guard protection. Her voice is sharp with giddy enthusiasm. You can’t help but pay attention. The next “customer” delivers his statement with equal verve.  The third and final customer, another male, confidently proclaims that he is going to share his social security number with the world, but quickly retracts, admitting it is a stupid idea. That’s a not-so-subtle stab at their competitor and the market segment leader, Lifelock, whose CEO famously publishes his SSN in all Lifelock ads. Clever. 

It’s absurd, entertaining, and yet very informative. I am regaled, I know the product and I know the advertiser. This radio commercial has kept my finger off of the presets, Seek and Scan.

For Identity Guard and their advertising agency, yes, I heard it on the radio.