Despite the many regulations covering direct-to-consumer advertising, no law actually says prescription drug ads can’t be intentionally funny or interesting. Allergan and Arnold have driven a truck right through that giant loophole, creating an ad icon like you’ve never seen before.
Comedian Ilana Becker plays the new face of irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea in ads for its drug Viberzi. Contextual relevance is built right into the advertising, a thing many people see as disruptive, intrusive and uncomfortable. Those are also exactly the characteristics of IBS-D and Viberzi’s new icon, Irritabelle, played by an actress best known previously for her work in MTV’s “Girl Code.”
As Arnold describes her, Irritabelle “pops by whenever she feels like it and causes you to skip out on meetings at work, cancel plans with friends last minute, and worst of all, miss the encore at a concert, which is obviously the best part.”
“There’s a large number of patients out there with IBS-D who are not seeking help,” said Chuck Sabino, VP of GI marketing at Allergan. The American Gastrological Association recently completed a survey of more than 3,200 IBS sufferers that found two thirds suffered symptoms more than a year before seeking medical help, he said, and about 11% actually waited a full decade.
“We also know patients are very embarrassed to talk about IBS and their condition,” Mr. Sabino said. “That same survey showed patients were more comfortable discussing sexually transmitted diseases than they were discussing their bowel habits.”
Irritabelle may not make the topic that much more palatable, but she does help normalize the condition in people’s minds, and Arnold believes she’ll prompt people to seek help faster, said Exec Creative Director Gary Scheiner.
“We set out to develop an ad that was engaging, relatable for patients and motivating them to speak with their healthcare professional,” Mr. Sabino said.