Comical Ad Takes Aim at All the Thinly Veiled Metaphors in E.D. Advertising

Roman goes for the low hanging fruit

In the world of Big Pharma advertising, there’s a subgenre for erectile dysfunction meds that makes it abundantly clear, from the first moment, what kind of drug the commercial is hawking—because of all the thinly veiled visual metaphors.

A men’s health service called Roman decided to have some fun with all the clichés in the category for a new digital spot called, aptly, “Thinly Veiled Metaphors.”

The ad spoofs competitors like Levitra (with its ever-present football toss) and Cialis (the bathtubs in the middle of nowhere), hoping to boost Roman’s exposure and have a laugh at the expense of those huge-spending brands. And, of course, to normalize a tough conversation and convey a message about men’s options and sexual wellness.

“Thinly Veiled Metaphors” comes from agency Circus Maximus and director Mike Bernstein, a Funny Or Die and SNL veteran behind Hillary Campaign Ad, Voters for Trump Ad and branded content for P&G, Samsung and MTV, among others.

The two-minute digital short has racked up 1.3 million views on social media, 1,500 shares and some 9,000 comments and engagements in its first week, with only a small paid push.

Bernstein spoke with AdFreak about creating the shot-for-shot parody (with a lot of pixelation added in for giggles) and why it’s satisfying to tackle advertising tropes.

AdFreak: What were your goals for this video?
Mike Bernstein: As a comedy director, people typically ask you to make content that’s “shareable” or “viral.” A lot of whether you’re successful at that is left to sheer luck, but in my experience, the reality is people only tend to pass on stuff that genuinely catches them off guard, and that’s especially true when it’s an ad. I think we really followed through on what we set out to do. It rarely happens. I feel like I got away with something.

Why are Big Pharma ads so fun to goof on?
The visual language of E.D. ads especially are jam-packed with innuendo. Comedically, there’s almost too much to work with. As dated as many of our references were, they get points for originality in my book. They went to great lengths to invent some truly elaborate motifs to stand in for sex and penises. Props to them. Many of them are over a decade old, and yet people still immediately registered the references.

How challenging is it to strike the right tone?
Every aspect of it needed to be approached with a completely straight face. On the page, it was such a to-the-point takedown of these tropes, that our execution became less about playing them up or exaggerating them and more about staying true to the premise by presenting them in a matter-of-fact way and calling each out. A big part of that was avoiding casting comedians, and instead hiring the types of actors that actual erectile dysfunction ads would go for. From there, it was about instructing them to perform with total sincerity, as if there was nothing funny happening at all. Even at the end, when everyone gets naked, we stuck the landing and maintained that in their delivery.

In addition to the hero spot, there are cut-down versions on YouTube, Facebook, Reddit and other social media.

Agency: Circus Maximus
Chief Creative Officer: Ryan Kutscher
Senior Copywriter: Scott Linnen
Copywriter: Erik Poh
Art Director: Pat Horn
Director of Production: Paul Sutton
Producer: Rael Kenny

Production Company: Superprime Films
Executive Producer – Colleen O’Donnell
Managing Director – Michelle Ross

Production Company: Alpen Pictures
Director: Mike Bernstein
Producer: Christian Heuer, Matthew Pittman
Production Supervisor: William Cubbon
DP: Tom Banks
Art: Zach Miller
Stylist: Jordy Scheinberg
Editor: Casey McClelland
Sound Designer: Sean Oakley
Colorist: Trevor Durtshi
Motion Graphics: Big Head

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