How Interscope Teased Eminem’s New Album With Fake Pharma Ads That Were Almost Too Good

Ask your doctor about Revival

"At first, it was so quiet that we thought we went too straight with it," says Interscope's Dennis Dennehy.

If you come down with a bad case of Atrox Rithimus, you won’t need a doctor. This particular affliction isn’t deadly, though it could send club patrons screaming for the exit.

Atrox Rithimus, Latin for “bitter rhyme,” is, in fact, a made-up malady. It was injected into the mass-media corpus through a website, videos, billboards and toll-free phone messages a few months back by Deutsch and Interscope Records to promote Revival, the ninth studio album from rapper Eminem, which drops worldwide today.

Though infused with in-jokes and Easter egg references to Em, the campaign initially made no overt mention of the artist or album. Instead, it appeared to advertise Revival as a new brand of OTC or prescription medication.

Even so, it was clear from the copy and visuals that something (slim) shady was up.

“When you’re experiencing moderate to severe Atrox Rithimus, the unpredictability of a reaction is always on your mind,” says a spokesdude in the clip below, shot in the style of an erectile dysfunction ad, complete with a smiley couple hiking through the sunny outdoors. “That’s how I thought it had to be, until I found out I could do it differently—with Revival. I learned Revival can help get and keep that shit under control.”

Among the many nods to Eminem, note the backwards “E” in the brand name and the ad’s closing line, “I won’t waste my one shot,” an allusion to Em’s track “Lose Yourself.” (Oh, and the naughty-sounding medical name for the faux drug, “Canticum Remedium,” translates as “The Song Cure.”)

Viewers who visited the web address and called the toll-free number that popped up on screen encountered similar messaging.

The site informs folks that “in non-clinical studies, 100 percent of Revival patients experienced AR symptom relief, vs. 0 percent taking a bullshit placebo.” The potential side effects list uses snippets of Eminem lyrics (such as “highly combustible head”). Phone-line callers were told they’d “only get one shot to beat AR,” while a piano version of “I Need a Doctor” played in the background.

“There had been so much speculation about an album coming that we knew his fans keep an eye out for any clues,” says Dennis Dennehy, vp at Interscope, who developed the Revival concept with Eminem’s manager, Paul Rosenberg. “And of course, drugs, especially of the pharmaceutical variety, are a theme that runs through so much of his work. The album name fit perfectly.”

Even so, it took a few weeks for the fever to spread.

“At first, it was so quiet that we thought we went too straight with it,” says Dennehy. “We did ad buys on SNL in a few markets. New York wouldn’t let us run it because they thought it was too on the money and misleading, which in retrospect is pretty great.”

The campaign blew up in late October, when Rosenberg posted a photo of the new Yelawolf CD on his Instagram. In the background of image was a Revival “drug” billboard, which made the front page of Eminem’s hometown newspaper, the Detroit Free Press.

As Marshall Mathers’ minions finally realized what was up and started sharing their conclusions on forums like Reddit, Revival’s true nature was revealed.

“We found there was a woman in Portland, Ore., who retweeted her post from the night it [the Revival ad] first aired on SNL,” Dennehy recalls. “She was literally the first person to get it [the true nature of the campaign]. Marshall made a surprise call to congratulate her, and it blew her mind. I wish we had it on video!”

All in all, a potent promotional prescription, on par with inspired efforts from Beyoncé, Jay Z and Radiohead for building sick buzz.

Assignment: Eminem Album Launch
Name/Length of Spots: Revival, Broadcast :30, Online :60. Website, Paid Social, OOH, Print
First Air Date: 9/22/17

Client: Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90404

Client Credits:
Chairman and CEO: John Janick
Vice Chairman: Steve Berman
EVP, Communications and Artist Strategy Dennis Dennehy Head of Ideation: Jason Sangerman
Creative Producer: Kathy Angstadt

Production Company:
Steelhead, 12901 West Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90066

Writer/Director Eric Kaufman
DP: Justin Gurnari

Executive Producer: Chris Fox
Senior Producer: Ali Issari
Executive Integrated Producer, Digital Laura Tron
Senior Integrated Producer, Digital Lindsey Najdovski

Senior Creative Developer Michael Weitzman
Designer Amy Lee

Editorial & Post:
Editor: Ian Paxton
Assistant Editor: Eva Dubavoy
Colorist: Brandon Chavez
Motion Graphics Artist: Robert Uncles
Post Producer: Avi Walsky

Writer: Rich Ford
Head of Design: Nathan Iverson
Language Advisor: Inara Klein

Business Affairs: Director or Broadcast Traffic: Carrie Bonillo
CEO, North America: Mike Sheldon
Chief Creative Officer, North America: Pete Favat
Chief Digital Officer, North America: Winston Binch
President, Los Angeles: Kim Getty
Director of Integrated Production: Vic Palumbo
Chief Digital Officer: Pam Scheideler
Director of Integrated Business Affairs: Abilino Guillermo
Executive Creative Technology Director Marc Gowland

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@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.