The pharma industry has a long history of using iconic images in their campaigns even though regulatory limitations prevent them from using the fictional heroes and loveable mascots often seen in campaigns for consumer goods. Instead, the pharma industry has had to make do with disease-state villains for DTC campaigns and patient- or therapy-success oriented icons for professional campaigns. (Read more about pharma’s use of icons at TopIcons.)

Despite their limitations, the pharma industry has still created memorable iconic campaigns. Here is my list of the top 10 pharma icons–some professional and some DTC. Vote for the one that you like the best or feel free to name your favorites in the comments section

Professional Icons

1. Rocephin Apple
Agency: Sudler & Hennessey

Even before Apple’s Apple! Here’s an early example of the modern icon age. Apple=health: that is, being healthy enough to stay away from the doctor’s office.

2. Hytrin Red Water Balloon
Agency: AbelsonTaylor

It helped guys with prostate problems to pee. Simple, red, and brilliant.


3. Bix the Biaxin Bulldog
Agency: AbelsonTaylor

The first ad to try to tie an animal’s attributes to those of an Rx antibiotic. In a tribute to the Leo Burnett School, this was one of the first attempts to connect a character icon metaphorically with a prescription product. And to think that some people in pharmaceutical sales questioned the wisdom of using a dog as a symbol, since “dog” could mean slang for a hard-to-sell product.



4. Trental Bear Trap
Agency: Dudnyk

This is the first icon that spanned both professional and DTC efforts. The bear trap represented the leg pain associated with peripheral arterial disease. It ran right after the passing of the Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA) of 1987. The purpose of this ad was to create a common visual vocabulary for physicians and patients about a symptom of intermittent claudication–a precursor and early indicator of vascular disease, often dismissed as part of old age. The bear trap ad was one of the first to contain the phrase: “Ask your doctor about…” Descendants of Trental are still advertising to consumers today.



5. Altace CHF Launch
Agency: Dudnyk

The lifejacket. Seems appropriate with the then revolutionary use of the ANDA clinical trial data–right in the headline–for reducing risk of mortality and morbidity. Gets right to it. Then you realize CHF patients can die by drowning in their own fluid. That’s creating a new meaning for cardiologists, giving them a familiar image that reinforces significant data–an icon working its hardest for a brand.



6. The Prevacid Tummy
Agency: AbelsonTaylor

Ground-breaking use of digital art to create a compelling icon. Tummy appeared in professional ads for almost five years.

Consumer Rx Icons

7. Digger the Lamisil Toenail Monster
Agency: Deutsch NY

Is toenail fungus a bigger problem than it looks? Yup, under your nails there is a fungus monster that won’t go away without some Lamisil.


8. GERDee the Protonix GERD Monster

Agency: H4B Chelsea (formerly Euro RSCG Life Chelsea)
GERDee attacks only at night. But isn’t GERD a 24-hour condition? Yes, but it is most symptomatic when people lie down at night, causing stomach acid to back up the esophagus, causing the pain of heartburn, and finally, causing a visit to the doctor to complain about nighttime GERD–hence, GERDee. Smart.



9. Snot Guys from Mucinex

Agency: Torre Lazur McCann
They are gross, green, and won’t go away. Sinus congestion, AKA, mucus build-up–characterized in the appearance of grumpy old snot men. They’ve gone from Rx to OTC and are still going strong. And they are still gross.

10. Zoloft Dot

Agency: Deutsch NY
Illustrator: Patrick Smith
The gestalt of an icon matters. This one made you feel like you could be on an SSI, just looking at it. Metaphorical, abstract illustration in plain black-and-white; calm, simple, serene. The first of its kind.


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