Regardless of how you feel about the various ethical issues surrounding them, I think we can all agree that the TV commercials for prescription medications are generally awful. They’re made by teams of people who sacrifice their creative fulfillment for buckets of money from billionaire pharmaceutical companies that need to saturate the airwaves with succinct explanations of a new medication’s purpose, while still providing several seconds of FDA-mandated side effects.
Commercials for food, candy, and soft drinks are easier to enjoy because they have time to be funny. We know what a Snickers bar is, so the commercial can be about Willem Dafoe dressed as Marilyn Monroe. We know what Ragu tastes like, so the commercial can be about a little kid walking in on his parents having sex. But... what the hell is Viberzi? And how the hell are you supposed to advertise it?
To answer that question, you can either visit Viberzi.com (boring!), head to the Wikipedia page for its active ingredient (how do you pronounce “Eluxadoline”?), or watch this awful commercial. Have you seen it? It’s the one that’s on television 1000 times a day that follows a businesswoman who’s unable to get any work done because her intestines won’t leave her the fuck alone. No no, this isn’t the one where the intestines are anthropomorphized. This is the one where they’re personified by a woman wearing an intestines-print nude onesie with strange bangs and—how would one describe that haircut—a curly, asymmetrical lob?
Which brings me back to my earlier point. Pharmaceutical advertising is bad in part because these commercials have to do so much work in so little time. Whereas most visual storytellers are told to “show, not tell,” commercials don’t know the meaning of the word subtlety, and instead show, show, show, and tell, tell, tell. They pile it on in the hopes that everyone will know what exactly what their drug does—from small children, to the deaf, to the blind, to the comatose. Viberzi is a drug that treats several symptoms of IBS, including abdominal pain and diarrhea. How do I know this? Because in the commercial I see a woman grab her stomach as though feeling pre-diarrhea abdominal pain, hear a narrator tells me she has IBS, and watch in horror as that other woman with the intestines-print nude onesie, strange bangs, and curly asymmetrical lob smiles like a cult leader and says things like, “diarrhea and abdominal pain!”
And I hate it! I hate it because she brings an insufferable staginess to her performance. (She’s acting for the intestines in the back row.) I hate it because it makes me think of diarrhea and abdominal pain, which are both unpleasant and bad. I hate it because it makes me think about all the people suffering from IBS and how they deserve better than the woman with the nude, intestines-print onesie and strange bangs and curly asymmetrical lob. Most of all, I hate it because it’s hard for me to watch without imagining all the work that went into becoming the intestines.
This commercial was not manifested out of thin air, and the likely narrative behind it sounds a lot like a particularly bleak episode of Black Mirror. It probably began with someone writing a description of personified intestines in a commercial script, then a casting call went out for a woman to act as those intestines, then several (perhaps dozens? scores?!) of women read that script intently because national commercials mean big bucks and huge exposure (regardless of whether you’re playing intestines or a human woman), and now one of them has a resume that reads, in part, “VIBERZI—PRINCIPAL—’INTESTINES’— NATIONAL.”
One day she may even find herself in line at a Chop’t, and the man behind the counter will say, “Are you... are you the intestines in that commercial for the IBS drug?”
She’ll smile, look down, and say, “I sure am.” And that scenario frightens me.
I’m glad IBS sufferers have a new treatment for their abdominal pain and diarrhea, I just wish they could have found out some other way. This is the worst commercial on television.