Allergy Season — Flonase Whiffs

My business partner, Ander, sent me a Flonase video ad starring Justin Verlander—WITH NO CONTEXT.

As video producers, we’re always looking at content marketing campaigns to see who is killing it and what we can learn from them. We are always able to see through the phony, high-production quality videos that big brands put out there. Or so I thought …

Here is an example of a well-executed video campaign that duped me but not Ander. In the following blog post, we break it down … in-depth. Why does it fail? Does Just Verlander actually have allergies? Does it matter? Does the video work? How could it be better?

— Alex (Story Wizard @ Floating Home Films)

Part 1: The inciting incident

Ander

ander@floatinghomefilms.com | April 5th, 2019, 12:19pm

Ander:

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alex@floatinghomefilms.com  | April 8th, 2019, 7:08pm

Alex: Really nicely done. They buried the marketing message in some true connection. It seems pretty relatable. I wonder how they found the father/son regular folks. Looks like they made a lot of versions of this. Pretty good example of something we could do with a super commercial bent.

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ander@floatinghomefilms.com | April 8th, 2019, 9:08pm

Ander: I can’t read your tone but you liked it, eh? It all goes to shit for me at :58 seconds when you see Flonase in a glove and he attributes his focus on the field to it. Doubtful. Immediately makes me question the sincerity of the whole piece! Why couldn’t it have just been a nice story with the Flonase logo at the end.

I know, it’s marketing, you have to get your product out there somehow. But this just didn’t feel right for me. Make me wonder if he really uses it. How much was he paid to say these things? Why should I care about these relationships? You just want me to buy Flonase.

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alex@floatinghomefilms.com | April 8th, 2019, 9:44pm

Alex: So, I did like it, because it felt more real to me than what I'd expect from Flonase. Hah! Maureen chortled out loud at :58 seconds without even looking at the screen or knowing what I was playing.

I also think the father/son throwing the ball around thing sorta lulled me into a sort of daze. I lost some of my critical sharpness for it, because of the emotional connection.

I also like the idea of both a major league pitcher and a regular dad having allergies—and that, without some sort of help, they might have a frustrating time doing something they love so much. There is a way to express that without being so overt. I don't know if Justin Verlander does use Flonase ... maybe the dad/coach does, too (he was so perfectly cast: white, athletic, nasally, slightly nerdy), but I like your question: why should I care about these relationships? They are so broad, general ... father/son, try your best, don't let anything (including allergies) get in your way.

How could they have better conveyed a story like this in only one minute and 30 seconds? Where does the authenticity lie in the crossover between major league pitcher & his dad, and little league coach and his son? And what even is Flonase?

Part 2: Deep dive into authenticity

alex@floatinghomefilms.com | April 16th, 2019, 5:09pm

Alex: The thing is, Justin Verlander's allergies are legit. So that part is authentic. But why does the authenticity still not come across in the video?

In Nov. 2015 he tweeted this, without mention of Flonase.

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Now, to be fair, Flonase switched from prescription to over-the-counter just 8 months prior, in Feb. 2015. So maybe Justin wasn't an early adopter of the drug. We do want to know when he started using the drug. If it was before Flonase started paying him to speak on the brand's behalf, then fine. If it was because of his spokesperson contract, then the authenticity can be questioned.

Verlander married supermodel Kate Upton in Nov. 2017. Upton gave an interview to Martha Stewart Weddings in May 2017 about their upcoming wedding; that article was then referenced by wedding blogs and sports blogs. From an article on the sports blog LBS in 2017, before Verlander was signed by Flonase (Feb. 2018), Upton comments on their wedding plans in relation to his allergies:

"'I don’t know what [kind or florals] I’ll have for the wedding day yet. I just know I want a lot of flowers,' Upton said in an interview published in May. 'And I know I want the petals already down by the time my niece, who will be my flower girl, walks down the aisle.' 'Justin has terrible allergies! He’ll have to take an allergy pill.'"

A pill. Flonase is a spray. So we know that by May of 2017, Justin Verlander still takes allergies pills (not Flonase)—and that he indeed does have bad allergies and has for a long time.

We also know that baseball season lines up perfectly with allergy season.

Baseball and Allergies

From an article on Healthline in April of this year, which seems to be light content offering advice to allergy sufferers, mostly serving as PR for Flonase:

“The start of baseball season isn’t an easy time for an allergy sufferer to be outside,” he said. “Before I found Flonase, I remember times when I was playing and had lozenges in my mouth or had to stop myself from coughing or not being able to breathe.”

Over the years, Verlander tried different antihistamine pills and nasal sprays to relieve his symptoms. Through a process of elimination, he settled on the nasal spray Flonase.

“It does the best job at relieving my allergies,” Verlander said.

For a second year, he has partnered with Flonase and its Big League Relief Campaign to educate his fans on the importance of having an allergy game plan.

“I was excited about this partnership because I am truly an allergy sufferer and I am happy to spread the word,” said Verlander.

An article offering tips for allergy sufferers on EverydayHealth reads along the same script as others about Verlander and allergies—even mentioning his wedding to Upton. The timing of this article is particularly interesting, March 2018, just after he signed with Flonase. The lead "I tried everything, and Flonase helps me be 100 percent" is buried at the very end. It seems like a more thoughtful message than the Healthline article above, though it still uses Flonase taglines:

Without a proper treatment plan, he wouldn’t be able to perform as successfully as he does today. “When I’m greater than my allergies, then I don’t have to worry,” says Verlander. “I can focus on the game and perform to the best of my abilities.”'

How did Flonase find Verlander?

I wonder if someone within Flonase saw the article on Martha Stewart weddings about Verlander and Upton's upcoming wedding, or even more likely: this article on US Magazine (which starts with "Claritin, anyone?! Kate Upton dished to Martha Stewart Weddings Opens a New Window.  that she wants tons of flowers at her upcoming wedding to Justin Verlander. There’s just one problem: He’s allergic.") and thought ... 'interesting. Big baseball player has allergies. Marrying a super model. Baseball and allergy season coincide. Ohhhh, let's get him on board.' But how does it fit into the Flonase campaign?

In the advertising magazine, The Drum, they refer to Verlander as an "authentic role model for allergy sufferers, having seasonal allergies himself and taking Flonase to get through both the allergy and baseball seasons." They go on to explain how the campaign focuses more on story than product claims. Apparently this has been the Flonase approach in the past, but bringing on a famous sports star ups the ante: "The campaign focuses on his story — not product claims. Building on past campaigns that have focused on people with pets and family road trips, empowering people with allergies to live life to the fullest around the things they love — all under the Flonase banner, ‘Be Greater than Your Allergies.’" (There's that slogan again.)

The article lists the agencies responsible for the campaign—there are many!— and makes me wonder who came up with the idea, who found Verlander, why Verlander agreed to do this, how much they're paying him, and whether or not he used Flonase beforehand (or does now)?

Note, this is the digital agency who made the ad, Wunderman.

From an article in the pharmaceutical advertising blog, FiercePharma, we find no answers to my above question, but some more info about the campaign.

"GSK said it’s tying the Verlander story to a typical American baseball family, the Dodges, who spend a lot of time outdoors and suffer from allergies ... The campaign will run across partner channels including MLB, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and The Weather Channel. The work will also appear in-store through select retailer programs.

The new campaign leans on the Flonase theme that began when the allergy treatment went from prescription to OTC in 2015, which encouraged users to “be greater than their allergies.”  ... "This spring, we’re extending that platform to baseball via partnerships with Justin Verlander and Major League Baseball, as the start of baseball season also marks the start of the spring allergy season. As a professional baseball player and allergy sufferer, Justin embodies what it means to overcome the season’s worst allergy symptoms," Jennifer Nadelson, senior brand manager of Flonase, said in an email interview. "We’ve been pleased with the positive reaction the campaign has received thus far. ... Justin’s supportive fans have been highly interactive."

In an article via MediaPost, they refer to it as a "documentary series," which seems false to me. They are real people who really suffer from allergies, but is it a documentary? What is missing that would make it be one?

The article says: "Verlander appears in a documentary series called 'Greatest Season Ever' about his pre-season training routine and the impact his father has had on his career. The online documentary series features Verlander’s father, who instilled in him the importance of preparation for a successful athletic career, a lesson Verlander says he also applies to his struggle with allergies." And goes on to indicate that Verlander makes $600,000 per year on all endorsements—which includes this Flonase relationship.

Also interesting to note is the Director, Alec Sutherland, who made the spot. He has other documentary-style advertisements on his Vimeo page, including this nice piece for Capital one.

What's missing?

After reading this, what do you feel is missing from the video campaign? Or what is overdone? How could they make it feel truly authentic? What would you have done?

Part 3: Comparisons & Conclusions

ander@floatinghomefilms.com | April 17th, 2019, 10:02am

Ander: Ah. Thanks for putting this much time and thought into this. I think these exercises really help us figure out what is and what isn't important in this strange world of marketing documentaries. This is really breaking apart some of my beliefs. In a good way, I think. Perhaps we should continue discussing this in person. It's interesting because I immediately didn't like the video but you did! I've come around a little after reading your email and re-watching all their videos. However, it still feels like a miss to me. But I think that's the important part that I'm getting hung up on. It is a miss to ME. But not to others. You can never please everyone.

I have allergies. So does my mom. Flonase has been prescribed to both of us and I have also bought it over the counter. It has been a small part of my life since high school. I have never really found it to work for me, so perhaps I'm bringing in some baggage to this video from the beginning.

Here are some of the problems I'm having with this series of videos. I take issue mainly with the longer videos over 1 min. The shorter 30 sec cuts are just fine - but not up to what I would expect from a large agency like the one they hired.

Mixed messaging. Father-son relationship, having kids and not missing your life, allergies, sports, being your best. They are trying for the slam dunk of emotions. They start strong but honestly lose me with these two things:

  • "doing a daily regiment of Flonase"

  • perfectly placed product shot

If you want to talk about allergies, don't beat around the bush. Talk about allergies! Maybe start the video on allergies. Tell a story about how allergies got in the way and how he struggled to cope with it. If he doesn't have that story perhaps you picked the wrong spokesperson. Or, perhaps you shouldn't be trying to cobble together heartfelt stories. Flonase gets in the way of the story here because it's not really a solution to anything. We don't have the stakes, we don't feel the payoff. It doesn't come to the rescue. It just shows up unannounced in the middle of me trying to understand where this story is going. All of a sudden I'm like, Oh... it's about Flonase. Was any of this real? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Doesn't matter anymore because I was duped!

It's hard to know if you should just tell a story and leave the product out of it (Like the Budweiser video you sent me on IG which was excellent) or include your product. They are two totally different goals which require two totally different approaches. I understand that both are important but you can't try to do both at the same time. At least it's hard to and I haven't really seen it done well. A campaign can have both approaches but perhaps they should be parallel series run in the same campaign. Not all shoved into the same video.

Sometimes people need to be hit over the head with a product video for it to make sense. Seems like Flonase is happy with these videos. So, who am I to criticize them? I would hope they did the research and knew this video would work the way they wanted it to with the audience they wanted to reach. As a campaign for allergies that coincides with baseball season, I think it's smart. However, I think that if they are going after baseball fan allergy sufferers they could have done it better by thinking about some of the things I mentioned above. Connect with the fans and identify with their allergies. Perhaps Justin should have interacted with other kids/players who suffer from allergies. Their videos are so clean and clinical feeling.

Alec Sutherland has some interesting stuff.

I think Flonase could have benefitted from some inspiration from this product video he did for Benjamin Moore. It's a simple commercial but it knows from the beginning what it's trying to do. Sell a product. I think there could have been a really interesting documentary series that played off this add - following the communities and the teams who got these center field walls installed.

The ad is clear about what it wants you to do while conveying a message that will pull on some heart strings for their target audience. All of that is built into the campaign and into the video. That's a good product video. Now, supplement with a doc series and there you go. Longevity and authentic storytelling paired with a decent product commercial.

Capital One doc was interesting. No mention of banking. Just that powerful statement at the end, "the only two people responsible for our happiness are right here." BAM. Responsibility, being in charge and in control of your future. They build up your emotion and then sum up everything with that last statement and throw the logo directly following it.

Go to Capital One site and what are they all about? "Take Charge of your money - you got this", "Learn, Grow, and focus on what matters" - just two statements you can find on their homepage.

That film demonstrates their beliefs and values in a way that doesn't ever call attention to the actual product. At no time did we see a bank card, no mention of 4% cash back on dining and entertainment. In the middle of the video, they talk about saving money from not having a traditional wedding. They mention that they can put that money saved towards adventures, a home, and making sure they are financially stable. What a sly way of sneaking in the idea of being in control of your money and having that lead to you being in control of your life. The cheap way would have been to cut to a Capital One card as they pay for the wedding at city hall.

That's basically what Flonase did with the bottle in the bag. You take Flonase in the morning or at night. It's not likely he'd have it in his bag. So why force that?

ander@floatinghomefilms.com | April 17th, 2019, 10:11am

Ander: Oh shit! I didn't even scroll down far enough to see that they did take the Benjamin Moore thing a bit farther:

… end of email exchange …

Where does that leave us?

Wondering again why big companies spend lots of money on video campaigns that are so good in so many ways, but feel phony. The ad execs who dreamed up this campaign did not do the difficult *and rewarding* work of finding an authentic story. Justin Verlander does have allergies, plays a spring-time sport, has a dad, and is a dad; none of that automatically makes this campaign feel real.

The folks working on the Benjamin Moore campaign certainly did the work to find real stories; they did more pre-production, they thought about the reality of the target viewer, and I bet they spent a lot less money on their campaign.