Science Rules: Pfizer and Queen Rock the Super Bowl


Here’s to Science


It’s extremely unusual to see a pharmaceutical company in the Ad Of The Week slot. It’s also very rare to see one advertising at the Super Bowl. Pfizer’s “Here’s To Science” is no ordinary pharma ad, though. It’s a romp of a commercial that pulled out all the stops to entertain game night viewers and promote the brand’s century-plus working at the frontiers of medical research.

The ad takes place in a museum of science and medicine, the walls lined by portraits of great scientists like Isaac Newton and busts of ancient pioneers like Hippocrates. Alongside them are celebrations of today’s prominent scientists like Nobel prize winner Katalin Kariko. But this is no scholarly tour. To the joyful strains of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, portraits, photographs and even anatomy diagrams come to life and sing along. So does the body on the table in Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson – and there’s even a singing tardigrade (surely a Super Bowl first!)

It’s all in aid of Pfizer’s 175th anniversary celebrations, and the ad ends with a poignant and uplifting reminder of the work Pfizer is still doing in cancer research, as a child is applauded out of the hospital after being declared cancer-free. Agency Publicis Conseil and LeTruc/Publicis NY have done an excellent job in bringing the histories of Pfizer and science itself to rollicking life.

The ad scores 3.8-Stars, which was enough to make it part of our “winning 11” team of the most effective Super Bowl spots this year. But a good score becomes exceptional when you look at it in context – the average corporate Pharma ad scores a woeful 2.2-Stars, with prescription pharma commercials dropping to an average of 1.3-Stars, the lowest of any category we cover. Most Americans associate the pharma category with negatives – illness and medical expenses – and in that context for a Pharma ad to score 3.8-Stars is nothing short of a triumph.

What makes it so good? The ad includes a heap of elements we know to be effective from the work of Orlando Wood on advertising, as detailed in his books Lemon and Look out. It has a familiar, highly melodic soundtrack from Queen – the lyrics of which are brilliantly matched to the imagery in the ad. (Did you know there really was a Mr. Fahrenheit? You do now.) It also has wider cultural references, like the Rembrandt painting, for attentive viewers to pick up on. Both the cultural references and the soundtrack draw the “broad-beam” attention of the right hand side of the brain, crucial for longer-term brand building, which is Pfizer’s aim here.

Finally, the ad finishes with an emotional peak – obeying the “peak-end rule” we know from behavioral science, which says that people remember an experience by the average of its peak and of the end. So ads should end on a high note, and this one certainly does.

Pfizer is something of a faceless corporation to most Americans, so for 81% of viewers to correctly recognize the brand is another testimony to how entertaining the ad is and how surprising its breaking free of pharma category tropes is. The three strongest associations viewers are left with are “science”, “research” and “hopeful” – a fine result for this year’s most unusual Super Bowl ad and its strong pro-science message.

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