What Healthcare Marketers Can Learn from This Year’s Superbowl Marketing Blitz

by Staff Writer

Super Bowl commercials are advertising’s…well Super Bowl. With the cost of a single commercial topping out at $5.25 million for just a 30-second spot1, the stakes couldn’t be higher for brands to showcase what they have under the bright lights and in front of millions of viewers (approx. 103 million during last year’s game2). This year was no different. With celebrities like Cardi B, Harrison Ford, and Serena Williams, speaking on behalf of brands like Pepsi, Amazon, and Bumble―there’s more than just an elite football competition happening here. Equipped with our client-centered helmets on and an innate curiosity about “how can we bring this appeal to the health and wellness brands that we live and breathe,” we asked some of our Ogilvy Health experts about what our industry can learn from this mainstream clash of advertising titans. Check out what they said:

Lisa Fritts – SVP, Planner


Today’s consumers care what companies stand for, how these companies are doing their very best to make a positive impact on our world. Super Bowl provides the perfect stage to make it loud and clear to demonstrate a brand’s mission. And this year’s line-up of advertisers is no exception, supporting everything from college educationto clean waterto women’s empowerment. Driven by passionate marketers who come to work every day because they want people to feel better, look better, become their healthiest, best selves, who else is more suited to bring forward intention, purpose, cause than health and wellness brands? Super Bowl advertising and the “post-nacho-dip-water-cooler” conversations around “did you see…” “wow that made me (insert emotional response, e.g., laugh, cry) …” should serve as inspiration to all health and wellness marketers to make sure to optimize your intention, your purpose in all marketing touchpoints. And the good news for health and wellness brands is that unlike many of these Super Bowl, social-statement-making brands and their causes, which may seem like a bit of a stretch, health and wellness brands have lovely, natural ties to doing good. Super Bowl is a merely a loud reminder to make the most of what you do best to make life better.3

Beth Paulino – SVP, Director, Communications & Public Relations

While Super Bowl LIII was something of a universally proclaimed snooze-fest, there were certainly moments worth watching, many of which were in between plays on the field. This year, advertisers for the Super Bowl all but abandoned the hot women selling products to men approach, instead giving some solid nods to the NFL’s female viewer base (which in 2018 comprised about 49% of the 108 million-plus people who watched the game), with underlying themes that spoke to the importance of empowering women of all generations. Whether through the use of well-known spokeswomen, as we saw with college football phenom Antoinette Harris’ RAV 4 Hybrid commercial and Bumble’s commercial starring Serena Williams, or through a simple PSA that spoke to young girls facing challenges, working together, and being given the same opportunities as their male counterparts, these commercials were about women and girls knowing their worth and detailing how they have taken/will take ownership of their future. This shift in mindset is reflective of the increasing emphasis we’ve been seeing on social responsibility in advertising, with many companies now actively mirroring the consumers’ desire to have the brands they use stand for something greater. And this is where healthcare marketers can take a very healthy note. Whether with consumer brands or pharmaceuticals, advertisers should note that recognizing and depicting women as warriors of their own lives speaks not only to the unrelenting drumbeat of female empowerment, but can also play a significant role in helping to build trust and grow relationships between women and the brands they will choose to use.

Jon Galya – Digital Studio Manager

Criticism of drug/pharma TV advertisements often comes at an SNL-type of caricature of a 30-second spotlight on phony portrayals of the fake perfect life, frolicking among sunflowers with birds chirping without a care in the world due to the product written at the bottom of the screen. In the real world that’s not the norm for many patients with life-altering conditions.

Microsoft’s commercial, We All Win, as well as countless others played a different musical note unknown to the “superstars” of the commercial space. This ad shines the light on a video gamer, Owen, and how Microsoft is bringing equality to gaming, even with Owen’s physical limitations of Escobar Syndrome. The tone is empathetic, showcasing a multitude of real-life patients who faced similar barriers to playing the typical video game consol. Microsoft stepped up to the plate with a solution that certainly changed those young children’s lives for the better, an adaptive controller. They were able to do something they loved again. Amazing!

But with our marketing hats on, we notice that not only did Microsoft step up the plate for coming up with a solution, but they knocked the ball out of the Super Bowl stadium by showing the viewer an emotional side of the user experience. Not an aspect we often see. This commercial could have mirrored a new Apple product release, but would YOU have the same emotional results? No. So many times the audience wants to see the better life offered, like the Audi “Cashew” commercial. That’s what the typical drug/pharma advertisers are attempting to portray via TV commercials; that they are helping people live happier, healthier lives, but this spotlight doesn’t often reach the real emotional journey that patients face. So why not portray the everyday battles and wins? Shine the spotlight on the real impact in patients’ lives. 

Jessica Gunter – Research Manager

As healthcare marketers we need to understand the balance between a flashy package and a connection to a higher purpose or narrative. Many of the 2019 ads felt overdone, following the preestablished formula that marketers hope will achieve a viral Super Bowl moment, but without sincerity: here’s a top tier celebrity, or a crazy scenario, insert product. But what’s the message? What am I buying into? Ideas that should be valued like perseverance and ingenuity feel like an afterthought in Amazon’s Not Everything Makes the Cut. Attempts at emotional moments come off feeling too forced as in Kia’s Great Unknowns where the idea of creation and belonging to a larger purpose barely come through. The Super Bowl ad has become its own creature, creativity elevated for the theater of the event, but not the brand ideal. The customer can recognize this and then the potential for a real connection to a brand or purpose is lost. The moments that come across as most powerful are simple, true to their message, and respectful of their audience and we as healthcare marketers especially should always keep these ideals in our awareness.

Gene Fitzpatrick – SVP, Engagement Strategy

It is very easy to get swept away with grand, often funny, and celebrity-filled big consumer ads running during the Super Bowl. For healthcare marketers, there may be an urge to consider creating similar spots to be part of this viewing phenomenon. My advice would be to be very careful.

The year’s Super Bowl ads were filled with celebrity endorsements, slapstick humor, and grand cinematic storylines but those elements must be delicately balanced pharma ads. Celebrities are powerful but healthcare marketers should be very careful to not use a celebrity for comedic relief. Instead, using a celebrity personally speaking about a health condition they experience can be very powerful. While epic storytelling from Bud Light and Amazon was prominent in the ads, pharma could do something similar with a powerful patient story vs. over-the-top cinematic special effects. And the emotion we saw in Microsoft’s gaming ad featuring children with physical disabilities is exactly the inspiring emotions healthcare should use in marketing important disease treatments and therapies.