Much like the early NCAA March Madness games, our #FierceMadness play-ins can advance some surprising winners.
Who guessed tennis phenom Serena Williams—a real-life migraine sufferer—and her campaign for AbbVie migraine medicine Ubrelvy would go out before the main round? But that’s just what happened.
While plenty of commenters said they “love Serena” and called her “an outstanding, credible spokesperson” for Ubrelvy, more votes went to fellow AbbVie brand Rinvoq. The next-gen rheumatoid arthritis campaign appealed with “clear, crisp messaging about the mission of being daring.”
In the play-in contest in the East, Roche’s multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus topped Novartis’ breast cancer drug Piqray. Commenters liked the “Dear MS” campaign, calling it “really powerful and clear brand linkage” and noting that it “tugs at your heartstrings.”
Meanwhile, in the West division, two Novartis drugs—Kisqali and Xiidra—went head-to-head with metastatic breast cancer treatment Kisqali coming out on top. Voters called the Kisqali “Thrivers” campaign an amazing idea, with one writing it is “so inspiring [with] really interesting casting.”
One commenter who voted against Xiidra and its inflammation villain character pointed out that “he looks like the old toenail fungus guy”—referring to (we think) the Lamisil brand character Digger the Dermatophyte that Novartis fielded in ads in the early 2000s.
In the Midwest division, Biohaven’s Nurtec celebrity spokesperson Khloe Kardashian won out over the same brand’s NASCAR promotion. A few did reject the Kardashian name—“no, just no,” as one said—however, the reality star’s “broad social media reach” tipped the scales.
Voting is now open in the main round with 32 brands, four matchups in each division.
(Editorial note: The 1-8 number labels on the DTC campaigns is not a ranking. The numbers were assigned randomly to mimic the feel of the real NCAA tournament.)
Come back each Monday and Wednesday to find out which brands made it through. Vote for your favorites and spread the word to co-workers and friends. Please be a good sport—only one vote per round per person.
Cast your ballots here for the Round 2 winners by 6 p.m. ET on Sunday.
(1) J&J Janssen vs. (8) Ocrevus
Ad: “Janssen Never Stops”
J&J mounted a corporate effort for pharma unit Janssen, where its COVID-19 vaccine was developed, assuring doctors and patients that its scientists’ hard work “never stops.”
Ad: Ocrevus “Dear MS”
Roche aimed TV ads for its Ocrevus multiple sclerosis med at millennials. Young people tell the disease it doesn’t get to control their lives and hold up two fingers to signal just twice-yearly infusion treatments.
(2) Moderna vs. (7) Trelegy
Ad: Uber partnership for vaccine awareness and rides
Moderna partnered with Uber to educate drivers and passengers with an eye to the future and the potential for ride-sharing to spur vaccine use.
Ad: Trelegy “It’s a New Day”
Departing from its familiar Jackson 5 riff “Easy as 1-2-3” for Trelegy to treat COPD, GSK moved to realistic patient portrayals with people throwing out ashtrays and cigarettes in “New Day” ads.
(3) Dexcom vs. (6) Phexxi
Ad: Dexcom G6 “The Future is Here”
Superstar singer, Jonas Brothers bandmate and Type 1 diabetes patient Nick Jonas starred in a trendy Super Bowl campaign for Dexcom’s no-fingerprick glucose monitoring system.
Ad: Phexxi “Get Phexxi”
Company: Evofem Biosciences
Evofem Biosciences launched its newly approved non-hormonal birth control gel with a sassy play on the brand name in its “Get Phexxi” campaign.
(4) Ozempic vs. (5) Kesimpta
Ad: Ozempic “My Zone”
Company: Novo Nordisk
Comedian and actor Billy Gardell charted his real-life Type 2 diabetes struggle with exercise, weight and keeping healthy for Novo’s Ozempic brand, separate from its earworm-y “Oh Oh Ozempic” ads.
Ad: Kesimpta “Relapsing MS Drama”
Novartis focused on the upside of its multiple sclerosis drug Kesimpta in its first-ever DTC campaign for the med, offering patients a break from MS drama.
(1) Johnson & Johnson vs. (8) Kisqali
Ad: “The Road to a Vaccine”
Company: Johnson & Johnson
Just weeks into the pandemic last year, J&J debuted an ambitious weekly live series “Road to a Vaccine” with journalist host Lisa Ling. The almost yearlong show featured its own scientist and outside public health officials on a variety of COVID-19 topics.
Ad: Kisqali “We Are the Thrivers”
Novartis’ TV debut for Kisqali metastatic breast cancer treatment showcased active, engaged women with the disease—the “thrivers”—in a campaign built on patient insights about their desire to live fully and be hopeful.
(2) Adakveo vs. (7) Vyvanse
Ad: Adakveo “Do U Dance”
Twitch, the celebrity dance and “Ellen” show DJ, challenged social media users to a do their own dance in Novartis’ Adakveo campaign, raising awareness of sickle cell disease.
Ad: Vyvanse “V is for Vyvanse”
Takeda targeted adults with ADHD in its campaign for Vyvanse, keying in on the positives of what people with the condition can achieve and inviting them to “rethink ADHD.”
(3) Latuda vs. (6) Biktarvy
Ad: Latuda “Real Expressions”
Sunovion created its newest advertising effort for Latuda during the pandemic, portraying depression sufferers posing one by one with matching artwork.
Ad: Biktarvy “Keep Being You”
Company: Gilead Sciences
Gilead Sciences debuted its first national TV ads for triple combination HIV med Biktarvy with a positive message for HIV-positive people to keep creating, living, loving and being yourself.
(4) Rybelsus vs. (5) Nexletol
Ad: Rybelsus “Wake Up”
Company: Novo Nordisk
Bright computer-generated graphics and an upbeat rock version of “You Are My Sunshine” subbed in for Novo Nordisk’s originally planned—but pandemic-scrambled—live action Rybelsus commercial.
Ad: Nexletol “Break the Cycle”
Esperion nabbed its first approval for Nexletol during the 2020 pandemic, but instead of putting off the DTC launch, it made an all-stock video TV commercial.
(1) Bayer vs. (8) Rinvoq
Ad: “Why We Science”
Wrapping Bayer’s entire portfolio into one pre-pandemic corporate ad campaign, the pharma and agricultural giant highlighted products from aspirin to crop helpers to hemophilia meds.
Ad: Rinvoq “Make it Your Mission”
The approval of AbbVie’s next-gen rheumatoid arthritis Rinvoq led to its first DTC campaign, with TV ads encouraging patients to “take on” the condition.
(2) Pfizer/BioNTech vs. (7) Nucala
Ad: “Remember Normal”
Company: Pfizer and BioNTech
Pfizer and BioNTech tap sentimental longing for pre-pandemic days with a campaign that looks forward to the promise of a more normal life with a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ad: Nucala “NuNormal”
GSK’s first TV ads for its esosinophilic asthma treatment Nucala used a play on the brand name and the oft-repeated pandemic phrase to give another meaning to “new normal.”
(3) Descovy vs. (6) Cequa
Ad: Descovy “Step up for PrEP”
Company: Gilead Sciences
Gilead Sciences’ first DTC ads for its next-gen pre-exposure prophylaxis drug Descovy featured seven different people who take turns encouraging viewers to step up to PrEP and explaining who should and why.
Ad: Cequa “Battle Back”
Company: Sun Pharmaceutical
In its first DTC work for Cequa. Sun Pharma used a feather duster to the face—and humor—to show just how irritating overly dry eyes can be.
(4) Sublocade vs. (5) Argenx
Ad: Sublocade “Keep Moving Towards Recovery”
Individor used positive images of recovery to tackle the stigma that surrounds opioids in first-ever TV advertising for its injected opioid use disorder treatment, Sublocade.
Ad: Argenx light-up and docuseries for myasthenia gravis awareness
Argenx’s first awareness effort for the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis included a virtual conference, light-up nights around the country, a patient website debut and the tease of its documentary.
(1) Pfizer vs. (8) Nurtec
Ad: “Science Will Win”
As the pandemic began last year, Pfizer took to the big screen to help allay fears and promote positive industry perception with the promise of science.
Ad: Nurtec “Khloe Kardashian”
Although Biohaven recently hit a bump in the road with Nurtec’s supercelebrity spokesperson Khloe Kardashian, the partnership is grabbing plenty of notice with potential patients.
(2) Xofluza vs. (7) Juvederm
Ad: Xofluza “Flattened by the Flu”
Company: Roche’s Genentech
Before COVID-19, there was the seasonal flu. Roche’s Genentech’s then-new work for influenza med Xofluza featured eye-catching visuals of “flattened” clothing trudging through the day with flu symptoms.
Ad: “Juvederm It (for lips)”
Company: AbbVie’s Allergan Aesthetics
Millenials took the spotlight in Allergan Aesthetics’ extension of its “Juvederm It” campaign, this time with a focus on lip fillers—and targeting younger women, who tend to enter the aesthetics market via fillers.
(3) Dovato vs. (6) Skyrizi
Ad: Dovato “Everything That I Am”
Company: GSK’s ViiV Healthcare
ViiV Healthcare used real patients in its first DTC work for its two-drug combo HIV medicine Dovato.
Ad: Skyrizi “Nothing Is Everything”
AbbVie’s created a new tune for next-gen psoriasis drug Skyrizi, its blockbuster-hopeful followup to Humira, in a campaign to showcase the joy people feel with clearer skin
(4) Sunosi vs. (5) Caplyta
Ad: Sunosi “Stay Awake for Amazing Things”
Company: Jazz Pharmaceuticals
When pigs fly gets a literal interpretation in Jazz’s latest DTC work for Sunosi, a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. In TV and digital ads, a sleepy man doesn’t notice the flying pig, or much else.
Ad: Caplyta “Everyday Moments”
Intra-Cellular debuted its first DTC campaign for schizophrenia treatment Caplyta, showcasing everyday lives of people living with schizophrenia. To create family scenes during the pandemic, it hired the real family members of featured actors as extras.