Puzzling Advertising: Who is the intended audience?


This advertisement by Vanda Pharmaceuticals (shown a dozen times a day, it seems, on MSNBC) is for a drug called Hetlioz. (It’s very expensive.) Vanda says Hetlioz helps blind people who have a rare condition called Non-24. These folk have trouble sleeping through the night and staying awake during the day.

It made me wonder: Who is the audience for these ads? Blind people, who can’t actually watch TV? Their doctors, who might prescribe this drug? 

My favourite new theory is that the pharmaceutical company’s strategy is three-fold: To create awareness of an essentially unheard-of disorder; to make the millions and millions of people who are not blind but who can’t sleep at night and who fall asleep during the day believe that Hetlioz could help them out, too; and to promote this medication to these people, to their friends and family, and to their doctors – without doing so explicitly. (In the United States “Pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to promote their medications for an off-label use, which has led to several large settlements for illegal marketing.”) We all know how utterly awful sleep problems are, so imagine how enticing the hope engendered by these ads is.

Great tidbit: “How obscure is Non-24? There are only 146 citations for the disorder in the entire US National Library of Medicine. By comparison, there are 8,463 citations for the plague.”

Addendum: My NoContest co-founder Tierney and I had a good back-and-forth after she read this post.


Here’s the link to the “Sandy’s View” post Tierney mentions.

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