Eli Lilly and Company

Author:Rebecca Stanfel

Page 505

Lilly Corporate Ctr.

Indianapolis, Indiana 46285


Telephone: (317) 276-2000

Fax: (317) 277-6579

Web site: www.lilly.com


Since its introduction in 1987, Prozac's sales had boomed, generating significant revenue for its manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company. But the success of this new type of antidepressant—a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI)—soon spawned intense competition in the $4 billion per year antidepressant market. By mid-1996 Prozac's sales growth was slowing, and drugs such as Zoloft and Paxil were eating into its market share. In response, Lilly initiated a new advertising campaign for Prozac in 1997. The campaign was a radical shift in Lilly's marketing strategies for the little green pill. Instead of focusing solely on convincing doctors of the benefits of Prozac for their patients, Lilly reached out directly to consumers for the first time. The Prozac print campaign, which appeared in over 20 general-interest magazines, targeted both adults who suffered from depression and those who shared their lives. The ads used visual metaphors to describe the experience of depression and subsequent recovery through effective treatment and were designed most specifically to reach those who were depressed but had not sought any form of medical assistance.

Lilly selected the Chicago-based advertising firm of Leo Burnett USA to help spread the message to consumers that "Prozac Can Help." The original ad was a three-page magazine spread that featured sharply contrasting images portraying the darkness experienced by a person suffering from depression and the light that a patient felt when the illness abated. The first page consisted of a gray cloud on a black background accompanied by the line "Depression Hurts." The opposite page was a vibrant blue with a highly stylized drawing of a yellow sun captioned with the campaign's signature line: "Prozac Can Help." Beneath both pictures were six paragraphs of text that described some of the symptoms of depression. The final paragraph encouraged readers to seek medical care if their symptoms matched those described in the ad and closed by stating that "Prozac has been prescribed for more than 17 million Americans. Chances are someone you know is feeling sunny again because of it. Prozac. Welcome back." The third page contained the disclosure information and product warnings mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In the months following the publication of the initial ad, Lilly released two companion ads. Each featured the same text, and all were thematically similar. One of the new ads substituted a broken vase and a vase holding flowers for the gray cloud and the yellow sun of the original ad. The other, which ran only in November and December 1997, displayed a limp Christmas tree on one page and a sturdy, upright tree on the opposite page.

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Although the actual execution of the campaign was the work of Leo Burnett, the creative inspiration for the images came from focus groups conducted with depressed patients. Not only did Lilly and Burnett use these groups to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed campaigns, but the companies actually used ideas generated by the patients themselves. After having patients draw the "experience of depression and recovery," Burnett used this raw material to design the final campaign.

Although the Prozac print campaign received some criticism for its efforts to influence potential consumers directly, many others praised the campaign for removing some of the stigma attached to depression and mental illness in general. Lilly pronounced itself pleased with the results and doubled its advertising budget for 1998 in order to expand the campaign.


Eli Lilly introduced Prozac in 1987. The antidepressant immediately revolutionized the treatment of depression. As the first SSRI, Prozac acted to increase the available levels of the brain chemical serotonin. Not only did the medication have fewer side effects than older classes of antidepressants...

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