Naked Reactine runner jump starts marathon strategy

If creating a campaign with legs is the ultimate goal of long-term strategic brand builders, then Zak Mroueh and his team at Taxi have hit the ground running with client Pfizer Canada....

If creating a campaign with legs is the ultimate goal of long-term strategic brand builders, then Zak Mroueh and his team at Taxi have hit the ground running with client Pfizer Canada.

Launched in mid-March, the TV campaign for Reactine, Pfizer’s allergy relief medication, depicts a man peeling off his clothes and joyously racing naked through the woods to the sound of The Hollies’ ’70s hit song, The Air That I Breathe. While at first blush the spot might appear to be a clever one-off, it’s actually the first leg of an evolving, marathon branding strategy based on a strong core creative idea that will include outdoor, print, cinema, and ongoing guerilla marketing tactics.

Handled by Taxi since 1994, Reactine’s previous positioning focused on the symptoms of allergy sufferers, including a spot featuring a fashion model walking down a runway while violently sneezing.

When they first sat down in September to tackle the initial brief for the new campaign, Pfizer and Taxi began working with a different concept – prevention of illness, rather than the cure. Then in November, Pfizer brought in a new marketing team led by Graham Robertson and Mike Smith, who inherited the original brief.

‘In the traditional health-care field, the focus has been on providing cures for sick people,’ notes Robertson, Pfizer’s category manager for oral care and allergy. ‘The new approach takes a preventive stance – you’re not sick and we want you to stay that way. Consumers have changed, wanting a higher quality of life. We didn’t want to browbeat the consumer but instead reflect their desires and offer a positive image of feeling good, the idea that life can be beautiful and healthy. So that’s why the ads use classic expressions of peace, happiness and freedom – hippie music, nudity and nature.’

Initially, Mroueh and Taxi art director Lance Martin presented several creative directions and Robertson fixed on the idea of a guy taking off his clothes to become one with nature. ‘He was the one who stamped the word ‘freedom’ on it,’ recalls Mroueh. ‘No one had actually articulated that word before. Then we realized that allergy relief is all about liberation. So, we evolved the creative executions from that single word.’

Restrictions on pharmaceutical advertising prohibit the exaggeration of the benefits of a drug, yet the man’s dramatic expression of relief in the Taxi TV spot is effective because it is not literal.

‘It’s a great metaphor for allergy sufferers – wouldn’t it be great if we could be free of our allergies and run around naked in the woods?’ says Mroueh. ‘We got incredibly positive response from our focus group research all the way through. And although we’re targeting a specific group – allergy sufferers – the appeal spills over and transcends all demographic boundaries.’

Mroueh notes that the client was quick to turn down ideas that didn’t have legs: ‘Some original ideas for the outdoor creative included using the package design of Reactine as a duster and putting the Reactine logo on the blades of a lawn mower. But they didn’t really tie into the notion of freedom. They were more about the previous campaign, which was all about gaining revenge on allergies. So we were challenged by the client to come back with new solutions that were consistent and true to the brand, yet more about freedom.’

For the final outdoor ads, the copy-free images include a flower giving a thumbs-up sign to a Reactine box, flowers designed as peace symbols, and a flower in the shape of a happy face. Then, in a unique move, different endings were tacked on to the original TV ad of the man running naked through the woods. In the first spot, he encounters a group of little old ladies hunting butterflies; in a second spot, he encounters another naked man; and in a third spot, he meets some hillbillies who chase him to Deliverance-like banjo music.

‘As a concept, freedom has so many interpretations and goes to so many different places creatively and strategically that it lends itself perfectly to the long-term brand building of this product,’ says Mroueh. ‘The key thing is to fix on a notion that is broad and mobile.’ Mroueh adds that being a design as well as an ad shop, Taxi is sensitive to maintaining a consistent look and feel across all of its communications over the long run – a key design principle.

Mroueh believes that many creative directors who inherit an existing, long-term campaign will often make the mistake of trying to impose a personal stamp on it rather than maintaining the integrity of the core idea.

‘My job as creative director is to be the keeper of the creative and the brand, making sure we’re going in the right direction,’ he says. ‘But also it’s the job of the client to set us on the course. If we are truly keepers of the brand, it’ll work.’