Ad of the Day: Meet Irritabelle, Your Irritable Bowel Sidekick, in Campy Ads for Viberzi

Actress Ilana Becker tells us why she loves the character

Take a bowel, Ilana Becker!

The actress and comedian tells Adweek that portraying "Irritabelle," the personification of a stomach ache with diarrhea, in campy ads for IBS-D (Irritable Bowel Syndrome With Diarrhea) medication Viberzi, has been a dream come true. 

"I wanted this job from the moment I laid eyes on the copy," she says. Originally hired to provide voiceovers when the work was in its animatic/storyboard phase, "I remember thinking how much fun it would be to be able to bring Irritabelle to life." 

Fashioned by Arnold Worldwide for pharma giant Allergan, the campaign broke nationwide last week, starring Becker as a kooky colon who makes life difficult for her owner. Clad in a jumpsuit decorated with a goofy digestive-tract illustration, her hair and lips painted atomic red, Becker makes a distinct impression in "Home," the 60-second launch spot: 

"By creating a manifestation of IBS-D symptoms using a real person, we were able to show the changing dynamics of their relationship [to the condition] more effectively and meaningfully," says Arnold executive creative director Gary Scheiner. "Many patients wait years before seeing a doctor about their symptoms, so we wanted this work to be highly relatable and effective in engaging patients, and to motivate them to take action." 

Contrast this live-action approach with ads for Salix Pharmaceuticals' Xifaxan, which ran a spot featuring animated pink intestines during the Super Bowl in February. 

"We intentionally parodied some of the category conventions like walking on the beach or riding bikes," says Scheiner. "Done with Irritabelle, those activities become fresh and memorable."

Fittingly, Becker went with her gut to achieve the right comic tone. 

"There's definitely an aspect of my personality there, just with the volume turned up," she says. "Irritabelle doesn't intend to be irritating, or even remotely hurtful—so I wanted to be sure the character came from an honest yet playful place. Also, as someone who has struggled with stomach issues myself, I wanted to be clear on how frustrating the condition can be and not make fun of it in any way." 

Since IBS-D most often strikes women, "we set out to cast a female for the role," says Scheiner. Becker's distinctive delivery—both affable and annoying, like a friend who's outstayed her welcome—enhanced Arnold's early presentation. Once the campaign got the greenlight, the agency invited the actress, best known for her appearances on MTV's Girl Code, to try out for the lead role.

"She actually auditioned via Skype from her bathroom," Scheiner says. "While we saw hundreds of talented people, she was the unanimous choice." 

Becker says she's "particularly proud of the long-form content on the web." That work includes a three-minute film in which Irritabelle explains IBS-D in detail, along with a cardboard cutout of herself and other wacky props: 

Another film depicts an intervention by the friends and family of an IBS-D sufferer, with Irritabelle refusing to admit there's a problem ("I can stop any time I want," she says):

In both long- and short-form spots, Tool of North America director Sean Ehringer achieves a self-aware, sitcom atmosphere that serves the scripts well. This make frank and funny discussions of IBS-D, a highly personal and private condition, seem completely natural. 

And Becker's performance is winning her fans in unexpected places. 

"My favorite reaction so far was a message from someone I don't know, who works in a classified military 'war room' with those giant TVs that show things they're tracking, along with world news," she says. "The commercial came on, and they all stopped and belly-laughed. I hope I don't get him in trouble, but to be the reason someone takes a moment to laugh is kind of the best thing ever."

CREDITS

Client: Allergan