Posted on | July 13, 2009 | No Comments
Ecra Creative Group
1. FDA-approved eyelash enhancer Latisse may not seem like a big healthcare deal, but its ads are a great way to show how persuasive strategy works in big pharma advertising.
2. The ad uses classic techniques (primacy/recency, visual supremacy, and disassociation) to sell its message.
3. It uses those same techniques to downplay potential side effects. It may not be a big deal with Latisse, but other drugs are not so benign.
In the pantheon of big issues in healthcare, this has to rank near the bottom.
It’s called “hypotrichosis”, a medical condition in which the sufferer does not grow adequate eyelashes.
Now before you laugh, the eyelash serves a meaningful purpose. They protect the eye against foreign contamination; they are a first line of defense for one of the body’s most sensitive organs. Like most primates, humans are highly visual creatures, and the eyes are the center of that attraction. More specifically, human beings find large eyelashes attractive (evolutionary psychologists say) because they are a competitive advantage in a world of airborne dust and dirt.
For those poor souls who fail to grow eyelashes, or fail to grow them thick enough, medical science has come to the rescue with bimatoprost, the FDA’s first approved drug to lengthen lashes, marketed under the trade name “Latisse”.
But unlike its chemical twin used to treat glaucoma, Latisse isn’t meaningfully positioned as a medical product. Latisse ads are more reminiscent of a Revlon cosmetics pitch.
Certainly, condemning the marketing strategy for Latisse as vain and shallow would be an easy target given the enormity of the problems in the healthcare system. But I’m more comfortable allowing you to draw your own conclusions regarding the relative worth of this new product in the grand scheme.
What’s much more interesting to me are the subtle and not-so-subtle rhetorical strategies employed to get you on the phone with your doctor today while at the same time downplaying the potential side effects.
Why’s this important?
You may not be in the market for eyelash enhancement, but you may find yourself in the market for a cholesterol drug or a new diabetes treatment. The stakes are high.
Let’s begin, shall we, by dissecting the latest Latisse broadcast advertisement into its component storyboard.
Script Summary: Speaker asks the viewer if she wants to grow longer, thicker lashes (presumably rather than extending them artificially).
Voice/Music: Female voice, sensual tone against a upbeat tempo.
Visuals: Exciting animation of the key concepts along with cut shots of supermodel and actress Brooke Shields.
Introduction of Latisse
Script Summary: Latisse introduces as the first FDA approved treatment proven to grow longer, thicker lashes.
Voice/Music: Brooke Shields is speaking now, introducing the product. Music remains, softer.
Visuals: Camera tight on Brooke, alternating with the product logo and the initials “FDA”.
Obligatory Warning Message
Script Summary: Potential for permanent side effects such as browning of the iris (likely permanent, but not a big deal – I guess – if you already have brown eyes), as well as warnings against using the product in conjunction with drugs for lowering eye pressure, namely the same drug, marketed under the trade name Lumigan.
Voice/Music: We are back to the first woman’s voice in monotone; significantly toned down music.
Visuals: Brooke Shields having fun interacting at a cocktail party; certain warning language in white type reversed out of the darker bottom third of the screen.
Close and Call to Action
Script Summary: If you want to grow longer, fuller lashes, ask your doctor.
Voice/Music: Music returns up-tempo; back to Brooke Shields speaking directly to camera.
Visuals: Tight camera on Brooke; website address.
If you read carefully, you’re bound to notice this ad doesn’t seem all that unique. You’ve likely seen dozens of other drug ads structured in nearly the same way. Why do they do it? Why does it work so well? Let’s examine the rhetorical devices.
We tend to remember the first thing we hear and the last thing we hear. We tend to gloss over the message in the middle. Every good speaker knows this; that’s why they open strong and end strong. This Latisse ad opens and closes with the same key message: Grow longer, fuller eyelashes. We remember that. We gloss over the discussion of side effects.
2. Visual Supremacy:
Remember, humans are visual animals. We tend to believe what we see over what we hear. We are very adept at recognizing visual cues. The ad focuses on Brooke Shields – her great cheekbones and dazzling eyes. In fact, Latisse hardly could have made a better choice for the target demographic. We are inclined to believe her. And why shouldn’t we? The ad looks like a cosmetics ad. And cosmetics are safe. Why shouldn’t Latisse be safe too?
Used in the Latisse ad to subtly downplay the severity of the warning messages, the script and the voice convey a serious message, while the visuals focus on Brooke Shields having fun. The verbal message and the visual message no longer agree. Which one takes precedence? You guessed it.
In the end, we are left with the impression that Latisse will do what it promises with an absolute minimum of risk. Like any product, its promoters want to downplay any negativity. I can’t blame them for that. That’s what advertisers do.
But there’s more to it than that.
Potential side effects of any drug are important. And they are being purposely downplayed – not just in this ad and not just for this drug, but in nearly every pharmaceutical ad you see. I could have used almost any of them to illustrate the persuasive devices used.
You can’t be a good consumer of healthcare products without being a savvy consumer of healthcare information. I hope this helps.