Amid the rising controversy surrounding price increases to $600 or more for its allergy-combatting EpiPen, owner Mylan has drastically decreased the frequency of airings of its "Face Your Risk" commercial, according to research compiled for Ad Age by media research firm iSpot.tv.
The 30-second spot, which debuted as part of a larger campaign in late April, features a terrifying scene in which a woman with a peanut allergy accidentally eats a peanut-butter-filled brownie at a party. Since the spot is filmed from the perspective of the victim, viewers see the horrified expressions of other partygoers before glimpsing the bloated and blotchy face of the allergy sufferer in a mirror. Interestingly, the spot makes no mention of the EpiPen, but directs consumers to an awareness website which then leads to a separate EpiPen information website.
Mylan has spent $14.7 million running the ad—44% of the company's total 2016 TV spending so far this year -- on the campaign, according to iSpot. The ad ran 326 times the week of July 31. Yet in recent weeks, as the public outcry against Mylan has grown, the spots are appearing less often. Mylan ran the commercial 292 times the week of Aug. 7, 66 times the week of Aug. 14, and has only aired it twice in the last four days, iSpot found.
Put another way, spending on advertising so far this year calculates to about 24,500 EpiPens.
Since news recently came to light that Mylan has increased the price of its EpiPen, which must be purchased as a two-pack, by nearly 550% since it bought the product in 2007, the pharmaceutical company has been defending itself against a stream of angry consumers and lawmakers. Earlier this week, Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the uproar in pressuring Mylan, which is run by CEO Heather Bresch, to reduce the EpiPen's price. Mylan is the only company to currently manufacture the EpiPen or a similar device.
On Thursday, Mylan said it would offer a savings card for customers that covers up to $300 of the price. The company did not respond to a request for comment and has not disclosed the agency responsible for the new EpiPen spot.
A published list of healthcare awards given in 2015 by DTC Perspectives cites Publicis Lifebrands Evolvr as creating an print ad for EpiPen that made its finalist list. Publicis did not immediately return calls for comment.
The "Face Your Risk" TV campaign is much more extreme than other EpiPen-focused ads, which have helped to raise the company's profile. In 2012, Mylan ran "Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis" campaign, which featured actress Julie Bowen of "Modern Family" fame and included a heavy dose of allergy education in schools. Also that year, Mylan was forced by the Food and Drug Administration to clarify its advertising with a new spot noting that the EpiPen cannot actually prevent allergic reactions. Two years ago, the company aired a commercial in which a mom armed her daughter with an EpiPen in her pink backpack before sending her off on a school bus as happy music played in the background.
Initial reaction to the "Face Your Risk" commercial was positive on social media, as many said it illustrated the true and often shocking nature of peanut allergies. Yet sentiment has soured more recently.
"And this is how Mylan preys on our fears, profits from their monopoly. Shame on them!!," tweeted Bradley Proctor.
One healthcare marketing expert said Mylan is not alone in its fearmongering as a way to get consumers on board with its pricey product. John Mack, who runs electronic newsletter Pharma Marketing News, noted that he is seeing an increase in scary ad campaigns.
"A trend with companies, especially ones with injectable drugs and vaccines, which also have big price increases, is to scare people into buying their product or getting their vaccine," he said.
Last year, for example, GlaxoSmithKline ran an ad for a whooping cough vaccine in which a grandparent holding a baby is an actual wolf. Earlier this year, Boehringer Ingelheim debuted a campaign marketing a treatment for Ideopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, where lung tissue is scarred in older adults, that showed the terrifying prison of the disease.