Measuring the buzz
This is unfamiliar territory for me. I hardly know what to say. I don't feel like myself. I don't know who I aaaam anymoooore. I just...kinda love...these advertisements...for fertility drugs.
EMD Serono has floated a new campaign for Gonal-F. (That's recombinant FSH for those of you in the know, happy magic egg juice for those of you without an interest in fertility science, and practically punk-ass placebo if you're my ovaries.) The ads, five spots addressing different aspects of the infertility experience, introduce us to Neil and Karen, an ordinary couple who strike me as real, relatable, and just like any other two people who are sad and frustrated by their inability to conceive.
...Who happen to be wearing stupid costumes.
Whoa. Whoa! Stay with me here. Just watch the ads, okay?
In the first spot, Neil and Karen are talking about how they're starting to think they have a problem. That they thought they were doing everything right, that they thought, since they're young and active, they wouldn't have any trouble conceiving.
The second shows Karen taking another in a long, depressing parade of home pregnancy tests. In a series of shots that had me ell-oh-elling — and I do not ell-oh-ell ell-eye-gee-aitch-tee-ell-why — Neil shows us Karen's stash of unused tests. Aaaand it's another negative, another pee-soaked plastic stick thrown across the bathroom.
The third ad deals with their friends' revelation that they're going to have a baby...another baby. Good sport that she is, Karen attends the baby shower, sitting separate from the crowd. "Why is it so easy for everyone else?" Karen asks, puzzled and discouraged. Neil, not knowing what else to do, takes her hand.
The fourth spot finds Neil clumsily trying to cheer Karen up. Equally awkward is his insistence that he's not the cause of their infertility. The ad hints at his uncertainty, though, as he checks out his tackle in the mirror...his invisible bee tackle.
In the fifth segment, we see Neil and Karen's frustration with timed intercourse, which is often the last step before medical interventions like ovulation induction and IUIs. Neil suggests that they just need to relax, and Karen pecks out his eyes with her beak. Oh, you think I'm kidding? Well, did you watch the ad?
Anyway, each of these scenarios is one I've lived or had described to me by friends who have. They're painful, universal moments in the life of an infertile, and they're presented with what I think is sympathy, humanity, and just a touch of humor — just enough to ease the way, maybe, for couples who are only beginning what could be a long and agonizing ordeal.
And the couple themselves are like us. Sure, the husband's not entirely in step. And the wife is a bit of a bitch. But tell me you don't recognize yourself or your partner in either of them, at least in your worst moments, and I'll apologize (and privately conclude you're lying). Although their experience is putting them at occasional odds, there are flashes of real tenderness between them, and I found myself really rooting for them. Yes, I root for imaginary people in bee suits who live inside my computer. What of it? This is the goddamn Internet.
We don't find out how their story ends, and that, in my opinion, is the real strength of the campaign. Never does the ad claim that Serono's drugs will get you pregnant. (Who wants to clutter up that nice plinky-plinky ukulele riff with a murmured "Some side effects may include..."?) Instead, "Increase your chances" is the tag line, and it's a smart one. Their target audience — the educated and affluent, I presume, those who know there are options and can afford to pursue them — knows that the best they can expect is a chance. That tag line doesn't pander. (I wonder if Serono makes some sort of medication to eradicate the feeling of ANTS! BITING ANTS! ANTS ALL OVER MY SKIN! I just got when I praised a pharmaceutical advertisement for not pandering.)
So the ads ring true to me in an emotional sense, but the fertility geek in me is just relieved that the ads got the details right. Either someone on their creative team has lived it, or a consultant did some impressive research. Those were First Responses in the closet, y'all, and that wheatgrass shit is rank.
I appreciate, too, the facts that bumper each ad. The "1 in 8" statistic. The reminder that infertility can stem from either partner. "Studies show that infertility has no correlation with stress." This is information everyone needs to hear. I could only be happier if there were like a 90-minute reel of those facts, and then certain people were forced to watch it while strapped to a chair, eyes propped open Clockwork Orange-style.
Mileage will vary, I know; I've read that some feel the costumes and humor trivialize a subject and feelings that warrant a serious approach. But as the eleven million words I've written on this site attest, I think finding comedy, or at least absurdity, in painful situations is sometimes the only way to endure them. So lighten up, assholes.
Hahahahaha. Oh, how I elled-oh-ell.
My point is, I don't think the ad campaign is making fun of us. It's not mocking us or trivializing us. I think it's recognizing us. If the ads' light touch makes the question of fertility treatment more approachable, or makes infertile people seem easier to relate to — and I think it does — then I believe it's a win all around.
What do you think? If it helps, imagine me in a bee suit as you're typing your response. Line up, ladies. All the royal jelly you can handle. I will rock your comb.