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Can a Biotech Group Change the Conversation With an Emotional Ad About Time?


The human body is a time machine. Treatments and products developed by the biotech industry keep its parts in good order, extending our stays on the planet and allowing us to lead richer lives.

That's the pitch from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a trade and lobbying group, in a campaign by White64 themed, "Time Is Precious."

The minute-long spot below opens with a recording by the late British philosopher and author Alan Watts. "We think of time as a one-way motion, from the past, through the present, and on into the future," he says. "Let us suppose that the past is the result of the present…"

Images of folks young and old flit past. Kids play on swings, a bride and groom share wedding cake, families enjoy the small pleasures of their daily routines. We also see hospital footage and scenes in a research lab. "Today's breakthroughs," a voiceover says, "are delivering more than stunning outcomes. More than cures. They are giving us hope. They are giving us … time."

A companion website, TimeIsPrecious.life, strikes a similar tone as it presents case studies, video interviews with various pharma executives and links to articles and resources for more information.

"Before we can make someone believe something, we have to make them feel it," agency executive creative director Kipp Monroe tells AdFreak. "Obviously, we want people to understand that the American model of private-sector-funded research has resulted in miraculous cures and treatments. But conveying that message in an emotional execution is the best way to do that."

To that end, the Watts snippet provides an intriguing intro. "Because one place the ad is going to live is YouTube, we were looking for a strong opening that would engage viewers," Monroe says. "So, that got us looking for audio clips to establish the idea of time. We liked the Alan Watts recording because it was so fascinating."

Of course, the whole topic is a political lightning rod. BIO represents hundreds of pharmaceutical, agribusiness and bio-fuel titans, including Monsanto, Merck and others branded by haters as corporate villains. What's more, the headline-grabbing antics of disgraced former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli—who infamously upped the price of a drug used in HIV treatment from $13.50 to $750 per pill—put a face on the industry that no ad campaign can swiftly remove.

"There is an ongoing debate in the nation about the future of healthcare," says Monroe. "Until now, one side had been heard—and it was time for the public to understand this is a multi-faceted discussion."

Maybe so, but the overall "We save lives" approach isn't exactly a breakthrough. In fairness, it's probably the best (only?) tack BIO can take to combat detractors. Still, the video—once Watts pipes down—plays out like fairly typical paid-issues fare slotted between segments of Sunday morning news shows. The info-rich site is more compelling, its depth of data providing some real food for thought and fodder for conversation.

Yet, despite highlighting the life-saving work done by BIO members, it's just too easy for the other side to portray the industry as a bunch of fat cats gouging vulnerable people in a quest for profits.

"While people are concerned about the price of new biopharmaceutical medicines, they recognize that the ultimate benefit of those medications is more time with loved ones," says Monroe. "So when we are talking about saving or extending lives, the cost of the medication becomes less relevant."

Less relevant? Perhaps. As long as folks can actually afford their prescriptions, that is.

Client: Biotechnology Innovation Organization
Agency: White64
Account Management: Jose Banzon, CMO
Creative Direction/Copywriting: Kipp Monroe, Chief Creative Officer
Commercial Direction/Editorial: Lucas Baiano, Vision Films
Art Direction: Brian Bowman, Creative Director

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