Real Doctor, Real Patient in Merck’s Keytruda Ad

Real Doctor, Real Patient in Merck’s Keytruda Ad

Putting “real people” in ads exploits the idea that you are more likely to mirror the behavior of someone you identify with.

Never underestimate the power of human touch when it comes to an effective TV ad.

Merck has now added a real doctor to its TV ad for Keytruda (pembrolizumab), the cancer immunotherapeutic. Two new ads – one featuring Dr. Goetz Kloecker, a practicing oncologist, alone and one featuring Dr. Kloecker and his patient, Katy – debuted on January 13, 2019.

In the first Keytruda ad, Dr. Kloecker praises the benefits of Keytruda, saying the combination of Keytruda with chemotherapy “really break through barriers” and that it has “changed [his] approach to treating patients”. As a physician viewing the ad, you might be inclined to follow the actions of a respected oncologist.


In the second Keytruda ad, Katy opens the scene by saying “I was thrilled to be able to go with my friends to our annual get-together…” after her diagnosis of non-small cell lung cancer. The ad shows Katy spending time with her friends, something that cancer patients might crave after enduring long bouts of treatment.

What’s more, the TV ad shows Katy and Dr. Kloecker discussing treatment plans together – something very familiar to a cancer patient.

According to a spokeswoman at Merck, the decision to put a real doctor in the ad came from consumer feedback.

“We felt it was helpful to share a real-world example of the doctor-patient relationship, its impact on treatment decisions and the physician perspective on treatment options,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email to FiercePharma.

This isn’t the first time consumers have asked for more exposure in direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug ads. Last year, a study from YouGov revealed that almost half of people with diabetes over the age of 50 felt like their lifestyle was not “represented” enough in advertising. This could potentially hurt sales since marketers tend to target that population for their drugs.

However, do pharma ads really affect consumer behavior? DTC ads might have less influence on people than previously thought. Findings from a 2016 survey revealed that less than 10 percent of participants talked to their doctor about a drug they saw on TV.

Perhaps if participants could see themselves on TV, they might act differently. Putting “real people” in ads exploits the idea that you are more likely to mirror the behavior of someone you identify with. With the addition of Dr. Kloecker, Merck is targeting both doctors and patients to use Keytruda.

The key is putting people in commercials that patients identify with. For example, the same survey found that including celebrities or animated characters in DTC ads did not lead to more drug sales – but featuring a celebrity you can relate with might help.

Pfizer released four commercials featuring Ray Liotta, the actor from Goodfellas, to promote their smoking cessation drug Chantix. To date, the four commercials have aired around 12,000 times nationally according to iSpot.tv data and Chantix revenues in the US jumped 5 percent between 2017 and 2018.

The next step for Merck could be adding a celebrity doctor to its marketing strategy. With these new Keytruda TV commercials, they pull ahead of their biggest competitor, Bristol-Myers Squibb, who has three ads for Opdivo (nivolumab).