I’m trying to figure out the thinking behind the new DTC (direct to consumer) ad campaign for Rozerem, the new sleep aid pill brought to market by Takeda. The ads feature Abraham Lincoln and a beaver. I find the ads disturbing, although they do stand out from the crowd of sleep aid ads — a space growing more crowded every day.

I first saw the Lincoln/beaver ad in print format (see figure below).

This 2-page spread appeared in a recent issue of Prevention magazine. I don’t get the dream imagery, unless Abe and beav are inviting me to jump rope! Leaving the purpose of the image aside for now, the ad is unique in the amount of space devoted exclusively to the image (labeled “A” in the figure). An astounding 81% of the ad space (not including the 2-page package insert portion of the ad, which is not shown here) is devoted to the graphic! This is the highest image percentage of any Rx print ad among the 50 or so that I have looked at — Lunesta came in second at 79% (is it a coincidence that both these ads are for sleep aids?). The average is about 46%, which is still a considerable area to devote to images. But that is what advertising is all about – imagery. Information — such as benefit and risk information — is secondary. In the Rozerem print ad, only a miniscule 4% is devoted to benefit information (labeled “B” in the figure) and 6% is devoted to fair balance (ie, the risks).

[Lunesta ads are not much better. In the Prevention ad for Lunesta, 12% of the ad space is devoted to benefits and 5% to risks. The average for the 53 ads that I studied is 20% and 12%, respectively].

The paucity of space devoted to risk information in these ads is amazing considering that advertising agencies are petitioning the FDA to further limit the space devoted to risk information in DTC ads of all types (for more on this, see ” DTC Without the Risk” and “Communicating Risk: Let the Dialog Begin“). These “communication experts” argue that too much risk information will “confuse” people or scare them away from beneficial treatment options. Of course, Abe Lincoln playing jump rope with a beaver couldn’t possibly confuse or scare anyone!

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Why Lincoln?
Lincoln is an icon for “telling the truth” and a study by the University of Chicago Medical Center reveals that Lincoln may have suffered from bouts of depression, anxiety and insomnia. He was taking a medication common at that time for depression, known as “Blue Mass.” Good enough, I suppose for a drug image icon — beats a lunar moth!

Why Beaver?
But why the beaver? I haven’t got a clue. All I know, back in the day when I designed pharmaceutical sales training programs, political correctness forbade the use of “beavers” in any graphic. I designed a board game, for example, in which a beaver navigated through obstacles like rivers, etc. to reach a goal. Sales reps helped the beaver by answering questions correctly. Cool idea, especially considering the use of interactive animation. However, the beaver was politically incorrect — as was the overweight Samoan — and we had to lose the tail and make it into some kind of gopher-like animal. I’ll never forget that.

One thing I have to say, Takeda’s ad agency is consistent in integrating print, TV, and Web advertising — at least as far as the imagery is concerned. The Lincoln/beaver thing is integral to the TV ad — I saw the tail end of one for the first time last night — and the Web site as well as the print ads. Here’s what the home page of the Rozerem Web site looks like:

This Web site takes interactive animation/video to a new level. It evens features downloadable TV ads and podcasts — both of which I couldn’t use (Windows could not figure out what application to run to view/hear these and the site doesn’t offer any help; I doubt many consumers will bother with them).

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The man, Lincoln, and the beaver all entice you to click on them and other parts of the image — like the tea kettle — to get more information. Cute. But after awhile it gets boring and repetitive.

BTW. I missed this at first, but take a close look at this detail of the Web site homepage image. Notice anything peculiar aside from Lincoln and the beaver?

The clock says it’s twenty minutes to eight! The guy is supposed to be suffering from insomnia — it should be 3 or 4 am in the morning! So, what’s with the clock?

It’s real time! How do they do that? Why would they do that?

In one scene, pictured above, the guy asks you to click on the message board to get a coupon for a prescription rebate. Lincoln responds with a rapper shtick — crosses arms, says “Oh Yeah! It’s all about the Linkage!” Get it? Linkage/Lincoln? My son can probably relate to this, but not me. Unfortunately, not too many teenagers I know suffer from insomnia (what’s the opposite of insomnia?). So why is Lincoln rappin’? This may be even more politically incorrect than the beaver!

Takeda, respectful of PhRMA’s Guiding Principles for DTC advertising, waited a full year after the FDA approved Rozerem to launch its DTC ad campaign. Perhaps it should have taken a little more time to think it through.