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Why the New Viagra Campaign Is Not Just About Sex, It’s About Love

Behind the Work 197 Add to collection
Upjohn UK marketing director Rob Elliott and VMLY&R creative director Tamryn Kerr talk about the tender, animated love story that’s full of empathy
Why the New Viagra Campaign Is Not Just About Sex, It’s About Love
Had you told us that the most touching love story we’d see during lockdown would have been a Viagra ad, well, we probably wouldn’t have ditched our Netflix subscription. But the new campaign for the ‘little blue pill’ by VMLY&R London is a clever exploration of relationship dynamics rather than the mechanics of sex, and it’s fuelled by an empathy not just for men navigating erectile issues, but for their partners too. And, strikingly, it’s a positive and surprisingly sweet depiction of male sexuality and masculinity that is all too often missing from advertising and pop culture.

Work began on the campaign at the beginning of the year, back when 2020 was a blank page of possibility. Several months, a global pandemic and lockdown later, the ad is even more relevant. The story unfolds in a couple’s bed, as work pressures and the stress of modern life colonise their time and push them apart. For those working from home, the line between domestic and work life has all but disappeared – and the impact of Covid-19 on the economy means that many are worried about either losing their job or finding a new one in straitened times.

The animation was crafted by BlinkInk and Zombie Studios, and directed by Paulo Garcia – the couples’ performances were initially filmed as live action references, which brings an emotional truth to the dream-like finished product.

LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Rob Elliott (marketing director, Upjohn UK) and Tamryn Kerr (creative director, VMLY&R) to find out more about Viagra Connect’s strategic and creative journey.


 
LBB> What were the initial conversations that led to this project and what did the brief look like?
Rob> The first conversations were a long way back. The business issues to address were twofold.  First, the gap between the number of people engaging with the category and the much larger number of people experiencing erection problems. Second, the length of time it takes men to engage because the stigma around the condition is so great – it can take up to three years for men to seek treatment. Underlying all this is our company commitment to improving people’s health. So clearly, there was work to be done.

Tamryn> Viagra Connect wanted to challenge the stigma and the misinformation around erection problems. This issue is way more common than people think. And men tend to blame themselves for it when it can be caused by the strains and stresses of modern life, something we all have to endure. So we wanted to highlight the causes to shift the blame away from men and onto life.

LBB> I guess what's interesting from a perception point of view, is that erection issues have a double-edged sword. On one hand, men can feel a lot of isolation and shame, but if they do want to address it there can be a degree of sneering in the media. Internally at Viagra Connect how are you navigating this and taking the brand to a new place?
Rob> The problem we face is that the condition, and the brand, have long been labelled as a sign of lack of masculinity by our society - the stigma around erection problems is ingrained in culture. It is essential to broaden the audience that we are communicating to and find a new kind of relationship between the Viagra Connect brand and customers to break this taboo. A lot of healthcare advertising feels very ‘doctor-patient’, whereas we are trying to evolve into a more ‘adult-to-adult’ relationship to open up the conversation. We want people who engage with the brand to know they are not acknowledging a lack of masculinity, they are dealing with a health issue which can be caused by the stresses and strains of modern life. 

LBB> And in terms of changing usage and perceptions of Viagra Connect, what did the research tell you?
Tamryn> We knew that erection problems are relatively common, and that men wait three years on average before they seek treatment. The most significant factor in them finally taking the plunge is that their relationship is at stake. The new research uncovered that when men understand the fundamental causes are usually associated with modern life – as opposed to what they imagine to be a lack of masculinity – it relieves the pressure and stigma that hold them back from acknowledging and seeking treatment for the condition. 
 
We also looked at the category, and no one had shown a relationship in an authentic way. We knew we had to change that.


LBB> What was the starting point for the idea and the story?
Tamryn> We wanted to write a love story. Not a sickly sweet romance but rather an insightful piece that would allow couples to see a little bit of themselves in the characters. When you mention Viagra Connect to anyone it’s usually met with winks and giggles when in fact the truth is that erection problems seriously affect men (and as a consequence their partner). We wanted to tell a bit more of that story. 

LBB> Rob, what were your first thoughts when Tamryn and the team came to you with the story?
Rob> We loved it. We loved its freshness and its emotional power.  This is a forward-looking and empowering campaign for both the brand and our customers. 
 
 
LBB> We've spoken a lot internally about how the ad speaks to couples.  For those struggling with erectile issues, it does a lot to alleviate some stigma or self doubt they might feel and it allows men to see themselves as romantics. For their partners, I think it also presents a rather touching and endearing model for how to broach bedroom issues. And it shows this as a journey the couple go on together, rather than a secretive or shameful thing. I'd love to know what sort of discussions and thoughts you had around this aspect of the creative?
Tamryn> We had the same discussions. The mere mention of the word Viagra to anyone is enough to make them giggle or tell a rude joke. And most of the category focuses on the victory of a man being able to have sex, and not in a very authentic way. We wanted to be real about the story that we told. We thought it was important that the woman in the story had a role rather than her just being a bystander in his life. It needed to be their story. And not just a story about sex, it needed to be a story about their love for each other. Advertising often speaks to men in a certain way and rarely does it acknowledge their feelings and emotions. We’re proud to be leading the way to changing that.
 
Rob>  We conducted a new kind of research in advance of this campaign, where we spoke with many couples in addition to men and approached it in a completely new way. It gave us an even greater insight into the effects upon a partner when someone is suffering from erection problems. They often blame themselves, believing that the lack of interest being shown by their partner is because they are no longer attracted to them. And even when they did have an understanding of what was going on, they worried about approaching the subject and affecting their partner's sense of 'masculinity'. So, the idea that a couple gently goes on this journey together – but the decision to confront the issues is still taken by the man – is, we hope, a thoughtful reflection of a complex emotional reality.
 
LBB> Why was animation the right medium for this story?
Tamryn> We always had animation in mind for this story. We felt it allowed us to dramatise the life causes in a way that clearly conveyed our message. That said, the first step in the production process was to shoot the entire ad in live-action so that Zombie and BlinkInk had the best references to use for the expressions and interaction of the characters. It was then that we got a first glimpse of how emotive the film could be. 
 

LBB> The roots of this campaign pre-date Covid BUT I can't help but see how lockdown has made this story even more relevant.. The line between work life and home life has all but disappeared and many people living in small flats and houses are *literally* bringing work into the bedroom. So did that aspect of lockdown life end up factoring into the direction the film took or is it more that lockdown has happened to amplify issues that we've been tussling with pre-Covid?
Rob>  Pre-Covid-19, the team at VMLY&R came to us with the idea of setting the entire film in the bedroom to show how easily life can work its way in our most intimate places. We loved the idea. Of course, we could not have predicted that the reality of everyday life in 2020 would come so close for most of us - it has heightened everything. And now more than ever, it feels incredibly important to make people aware of the causes of erection problems, open the conversation, and help couples to find the right solutions for them.

Tamryn> I believe lockdown and remote working have definitely amplified the issues that couples (and everyone else) were dealing with pre-Covid-19. We can all relate to stories of people working hard, not eating as well as they want and not sleeping well during ‘normal’ times, let alone when we’re living and working in such proximity to partners. We chose to set the entire film in the bedroom to make it more personal and intimate. Over time you see life invading that space until it finally pushes them completely apart.
 
LBB> The aesthetic and art direction is really nice - 3D animation but highly textured, some beautiful use of light and colour. How did you work together with Paulo the director on this?
Tamryn> Animation often requires a leap of faith. Because for most of the process, all you see are grey squares and shapes that are moving and interacting with each other. Your mind has to fill in the blanks and imagine the finished product. But we were working with some of the best. From the treatment stage, Paulo and the team at Zombie had an idea of character design and some concept art for the film that we all fell in love with. It was both unique and an ownable look for Viagra Connect. Paulo and his team understood the importance of crafting each and every moment in the ad to make the story as believable as possible. They did an incredible job of bringing it to life.
 

LBB> How much of the film was created pre-lockdown and how did lockdown impact the production?
Tamryn> The Zombie team came to London for the live-action shoot at the beginning of the year. So that was all in the can long before March. And because BlinkInk and Zombie had people in both Brazil and London we were already used to video calling each other, so nothing really changed when we all started to work remotely. I was a bit worried about not being in the studio for the sound mix, but when Factory’s Anthony Moore agreed to the project, I knew that we were in safe hands. I suspect that we all will be working more like this for future productions so this was good practice.
 
LBB> I’ve got to talk about the music choice! How did you approach that and why did the Proclaimers cover hit the mark?
Tamryn> I’d only listened to about seven tracks in the search before I got to this cover of The Proclaimers track. I knew instantly that it was the track that we were going to put forward. It’s perfect for this film. I’d never really considered the meaning of the lyrics before listening to this version. It completely changed the song for me, so I’m hoping it will do the same for others. Steve, Rob and the team agreed, and we never talked about any other track options.


LBB> I think some brands that have attempted to reframe modern masculinity have come down in a really negative way on toxic masculinity, in a way that I imagine could be quite off putting or judgemental of the men they're trying to reach - this feels way more empathetic... why was that the right way to go?
Rob> One of the things that we kept coming back to throughout the process was ‘what will really help remove pressure’, because we knew that was the key to helping men to talk and act. 

Many previous brand conversations on modern masculinity have focused on its failings - exploring toxic masculinity and all the things you shouldn’t be as a bloke. While that conversation is so important to have, it wouldn’t have been helpful here. We were talking about an area in which men are already shrouded in self-blame, so we actively chose to remove that blame, that perception of a failure of masculinity and place it on the strains of modern life. We also wanted to show an aspect of masculinity that I think we see too little of in the media: the vulnerability, the need for intimacy and emotional connections.

 
LBB> How does this campaign build on previous Viagra Connect work?
Rob> The previous work brought a more positive public perception and light to the category. It began to embrace normalisation through messaging about the number of men who ‘suffer’, but it was defined by the new news of ‘now available without a prescription’ – the first time that any ED brand was available over the counter. This new campaign focuses more on re-contextualising the condition in terms of its causes. This, in turn, should help to remove the stigma and build a role for the brand helping couples to re-connect and continue with their love stories.

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CLIENT

CLIENT: Viagra Connect - Upjohn

COMMERCIAL LEAD: Stephen Harrison

MARKETING DIRECTOR: Rob Elliott

MARKETING MANAGER: Teresa Lau

MARKETING MANAGER: Paula Taylor

TRADE MARKETING MANAGER: Toygan Yamanel

MEDICAL LEAD: Justin Nnawuchi

DIGITAL MARKETING LEAD: Paul Withers

DIGITAL MARKETING MANAGER: Hayley Perez

PHARMACY BUSINESS DIRECTOR: Alison Dixon

AGENCY

AGENCY: VMLY&R

CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER: Laurent Simon

CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Tamryn Kerr

CHAIRMAN: Mark Roalfe

CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER: Sophie Lewis

STRATEGY DIRECTOR: Josh Taylor-Dadds

STRATEGIST: Ollie Chakraverty

SENIOR PRODUCER: Charlotte Davis

GLOBAL BRAND DIRECTOR: Nick Burstin

SENIOR ACCOUNT DIRECTOR: Siobhán Woodrow

SENIOR ACCOUNT MANAGER: Karolina Dovgialo

DESIGN DIRECTOR: Chris Willis

PRODUCTION

PRODUCTION: BlinkInk

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Bart Yates

PRODUCER: John Woolley

ANIMATION AND VISUAL EFFECTS

ANIMATION AND VISUAL EFFECTS BY: Zombie Studio

DIRECTOR: Paulo Garcia

ACCOUNT SERVICES: Stefanie Dias

CREATIVE DIRECTION: Daniel Salles, Marcelo Garcia

PRODUCER: André Carvalho

CGI SUPERVISOR: Rafael Segnini

TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Wallan Oliveira

TECHNICAL SUPERVISOR: Isaac Buzzola

STORYBOARD AND ANIMATIC BY: Saulo Brito and Gabriel São Marcos

ANIMATION SUPERVISOR: Patrick Botton

LEAD MODELLER: Mauricio Sampaio

LEAD LOOK DEVELOPMENT: Claudio Junior

COMPOSITION SUPERVISOR: Leanndro Amorim and Guilherme Sarinho

COLOUR GRADING: Psycho n' Look

SOUND

SOUND: Factory

SOUND DESIGN, MIX AND MUSIC ARRANGEMENT: Anthony Moore

AUDIO PRODUCER: Lucy Spong

MUSIC SUPERVISION: Native Music

Genres: Animation, Storytelling

Categories: Pharmacy, OTC Drugs

VMLY&R London, Mon, 20 Jul 2020 16:27:41 GMT