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Humor in pharma is no laughing matter. Or is it?

עודכן: 24 ביולי 2022

Life post pandemic has made people pay more attention to what companies and brands stand for. As a result, many companies are shifting their messages and opting for more humor and authenticity in their campaigns.

In 2021, we saw a significant change in pharma campaigns in Israel. From very conservative pharma campaigns (and very few of them) to more daring campaigns (and a lot more of them). More and more pharma ads resemble FMCG* consumer ads - humorous, bold, and musical.

Is humor the best medicine?

While some awareness ads in Israel have hit the nail on the head, some still haven't quite gotten it right...and have risked offending and going a bit too far. Maybe it is the lack of pharma-specific experience, or perhaps social media is confusing - medical ads reach large audiences, so there is the feeling we need to entertain. But it is worth remembering that there is a fine line between regular consumer ads and pharma ads, which is the essence of what makes us different.

We are dealing with subjective emotions and perceptions - not about cars, phones, or insurance decisions. We are talking about health issues that can be emotionally burdening, physically constricting, and socially challenging. So we need to be more sensitive.

A good example is the CDC campaign (see below). It is witty, sensitive, and funny. They wanted to put colorectal cancer screening on top of people's to-do-list. They chose to do it with a comic twist: suggestive of the awkward sex talk between parents and kids. The father has "the talk" with his 45-years-old son. There is a suspenseful story buildup - you are curious where the talk is going. It raises awareness - you get the facts and a call to action.

Tips for getting it right

Here are a couple of tips that can help refine the right style or direction of the campaign:

1. Campaigns created, planned, written, and executed by people who live with the health condition are more likely to achieve the "ah! factor". If your team doesn't include "employees by day, patients by night", you must make sure you have researched the topic and have spoken to people who live with it.

After receiving the initial client brief, go the extra mile and search for more information about the disease. The more you learn, the more you will know. It might be the closest you will get in terms of behavioral insights, which are vital for good marketing.

2. Before planning the campaign, answer these questions. Answer them as your target audience would. Not as a marketing person. For example:

  • What do people with the disease feel (Not symptoms. Emotions)?

  • What does it mean to have the disease - socially, emotionally, medically?

  • Why don't people talk about/know/understand the disease? Is it a lack of knowledge? Embarrassment? Confusion? Fear?

  • What would change patients/physicians' behavior? Entice patients into turning to their doctors?

The content medical companies produce (video, website, brochure, or any other form of communication) should resonate with patients and make an impact. Aim to be emotional and to connect. If you go for humor, use comedy that can make the person dealing with the health condition - relate to it and maybe laugh (if you are not sure - use a focus group). It is tough to find the right balance, but it is possible.

Even though trends are catchier and more tempting, momentary trends may obscure our judgment. Remember our end goal - raising awareness among caregivers, potential patients, and doctors. Often our goal is to de-stigmatize. So yes, humor can be an excellent solution for a memorable campaign - when it is sensitive and not condescending.

Here are some award-winning or successful examples of how pharma can use humor and creativity:

Genre: Humor

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Campaign: The bums and the bees.

Disease awareness campaign for Colorectal cancer.

Genre: Humor.


Thinly Veiled Metaphors.

A campaign that not only gets the eyeballs on the product, but also following through from an experience perspective.

Genre: Humor.


You deserve a good poop.

Tackling the taboo topics of poop and constipation, re-framing laxatives as a gentle form of self-care.

On a similar note, here is one my friend recommended (Thank you, Debbie):

Genre: Humor.

Garden of life.


The campaign “Poopowerment” is a straight and honest talk about bodily functions. This ad sparked controversy. The video here is the censored version. You can read the full story here.

And here is one that is slightly older, but is till a good example:

Genre: Humor.


A visit from aunt Flo.

A women's health site dedicated to normalizing the conversation about women's bodies. Celebrating every age and every stage of womanhood.

*FMCG - Fast Moving Consumer Goods

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