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Small Agency, Big Idea: Circus Maximus 'asks for a friend' in campaign for E.D. drug Roman

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Ahead of Ad Age's Small Agency Conference in L.A. on July 17-18, we're be turning the spotlight onto standout work from the industry's tiny but mighty creative players. We continue with 5-year-old Manhattan shop Circus Maximus, which just created a disarming campaign for erectile dysfunction remedy Roman.

Often, the secret to cracking a brief is figuring out how to talk about uncomfortable subjects. Consumers need to be approached obliquely with products like toilet paper, pantiliners or meds with dangerous side effects. When Circus Maximus took on erectile dysfunction remedy Roman, it needed to find a way to reach the 52 percent of men who report dealing with the condition, despite the fact that almost no men will publicly admit they do.

Late last year, it lampooned pharmaceutical ad tropes. To continue the campaign, it leaned into a common tactic among men confronted with a situation that makes them feel emotionally vulnerable. The result is "Asking for a Friend," which finds some interested but abashed dudes maintaining plausible deniability. The information isn't for them. It's for a friend. They're approved to accept his packages.

"This time we went straight to the source, shifting our focus to real men, and found humor in how uncomfortable and awkward it can be to discuss it out in the real world," says director Mike Bernstein, who is known for his work with "Saturday Night Live" and Funny or Die. "The hard truth is there's still a lot of shame around it, so it was really important to Circus Maximus and all of us that we enter that conversation with the goal of normalizing it."

The new spots began running on cable TV this week, and out-of-home placements reinforce the messaging with a bit of sarcastic copy: "Apparently 0% of men experience erectile dysfunction, but 52% have a 'friend' who wants to learn more."

Despite the humor, it's important to be able to bring a difficult subject to light, says Ryan Kutscher, founder and executive creative director at Circus Maximus. "Culturally, there's already a shift happening where toxic masculinity and ignoring your health problems is fading. Part of Roman's mission since launching has been to destigmatize ED and help men take control of their health."

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