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Nothing to laugh about: What happened to humor in pharma advertising?

When Bruno Abner and his creative team started working up campaign ideas for a new hormone-free contraceptive for women called Phexxi, they knew they wanted…



When Bruno Abner and his creative team started working up campaign ideas for a new hormone-free contraceptive for women called Phexxi, they knew they wanted the message to be bold and unapologetic.

Then along came actress Annie Murphy. Best known for her comedic turn as Alexis Rose on the hit show “Schitt’s Creek,” Murphy opened the door to humor when McCann Health’s client Evofem Biosciences suggested her as a spokesperson.

Abner, the chief creative officer at McCann Health New Jersey, had already assembled an all-women creative team who were working on groundbreaking ways to stand out in the “stuck in the past” contraception category. The team had already settled on a “House Rules” frank-talking theme, but the addition of Murphy presented the opportunity to add humor to the evolving work.

“I didn’t want it to look like an ‘ad ad’ or a functional ad. I wanted people to watch it and have joy and a little bit of fun,” Abner said. The humor was purposeful in “making a message appealing and creating contrast in the pharma category. We tried to make it fun, entertaining, very bold and balanced. The humor helped balance the bold and punchiness of the ad.”

The result? A confident sex-positive humorous ad for Evofem and Phexxi that grabbed media headlines and consumer attention, while piling up ad industry creative awards and boosting bottom line sales.

It may not be a coincidence that Phexxi’s much-lauded campaign debuted at a time when Americans hadn’t had much to laugh about over the past few years. The Covid-19 pandemic, political turmoil, renewed social justice efforts to fight racism and raise health equity, climate change disasters piling up and a rollercoaster economy all added up to a pretty bleak backdrop.

Yet it may be just the right time. People still want humor from brands and marketing. Nine out of 10 people (91%) prefer brands to be funny, and 72% would choose a brand that uses humor over a competitor that doesn’t, according to Oracle’s recent Happiness Report.

So what’s stopping them? The bosses apparently — 95% of business leaders surveyed in the report said they are afraid of using humor in messages to customers.

Polly Wyn Jones

Whether it’s C-suite management or just resistance to trying something new, the decline of funny in advertising is apparent.

Only about one-third of all ads today use humor, the culminating effect of a long slow decline in funny trends in marketing over the past 20 years, said Polly Wyn Jones, global knowledge manager, creative, at Kantar marketing and data analytics company. And it’s even lower in healthcare where only about 20% of the ads are humorous.

Kantar research finds that about 7% of all advertising is considered very funny — versus just lighthearted or mildy humorous — but that percentage in healthcare again tracks much lower at just 3% falling into the very funny category.

Jones lamented not only the loss of levity, but also the potential to make stronger, better connections with consumers. Humor ranks as the top characteristic that makes people pay attention to ads, followed by music, storytelling and celebrities, in Kantar analytics.

“With so many different issues coming to the fore, people are a bit nervous about using humor,” she said. “It’s easier not to do it because then you don’t get it wrong. But what we’re suggesting is that you’re really missing a trick if you don’t do it because it’s the thing that’s most likely to make people receptive to your advertising.”

Still, pharma advertising is different, right? Maybe humor doesn’t have a place in pharma marketing as it might for consumer products like laundry detergent, car insurance and snack food brands. After all, many health conditions are serious and even non-life-threatening conditions carry emotional weight for the people living with them.

That’s not necessarily true, experts said. No category is absolutely off limits when it comes to humor in advertising, although the experts interviewed for this story did agree that judicious use and case-by-case consideration are important in healthcare and pharma marketing.

Adam Hessel, chief creative officer at Ogilvy Health, said humor in pharma can be a differentiator for pharma companies and brands and “it’s there for the taking” for agencies and brands bold enough to try.

“To me, comedy and entertainment make you sit back, take you for a little ride and say ‘ok, that was a great little moment,’” he said. “And it’s doable anywhere, right? It’s just about having the right brief, the right creative, and the right clients that understand this is really going to move the needle for your product in a good way.”

No one is arguing of course that all pharma advertising should be funny. Yet the appropriate time, place and message can strike funny bones and bolster brand recognition.

For FCB Health New York creatives working on a campaign for OTC stool softener Colace last year, humor became the emotional connection to consumers and patients.

“If you’re not triggering emotions and feelings through your communications, you’re probably not being heard by your audience,” said Melissa Jean Ludwig, VP and creative director at the agency. “With humor specifically, we really feel that it helps people broach topics that are sometimes difficult to talk about — in this case, pooping.”

Melissa Jean Ludwig

“There’s a right place and a right time for using humor, and if we can check both of those boxes, that opens the door for us to go for it,” she added.

The Colace campaign, anchored by a 30-second video ad, featured animated animals and objects such as pineapples and a watermelon acting out the upbeat original jingle that related difficulty pooping to humorous analogies — and drove a big response. It’s racked up almost 1.5 million combined video views across social media including YouTube, Ludwig said.

Erica Thwaites, FCB Health VP and creative director and co-creator on the Colace campaign, said humor through icons, imagery and songs can create more memorable work.

Erica Thwaites

“People don’t often want to remember the heavy stuff. So I think with humorous advertising there is a hope that people can hold onto and remember,” she said. “… I’m optimistic that the pendulum is swinging to the lighter side of things — or maybe I should say the non-pharma-y side of things? We’ve been hearing from clients who are saying ‘I don’t want this to feel like pharma.’”

Humor though is subjective. What may be funny to one person — or even 10,000 people — may not be funny to others. That means “doing the homework” to make sure the humor is on target and resonates appropriately, said Michelle Ziekert, Eversana Intouch executive creative director said.

Target audiences though will determine the level of acceptable humor, she said, for instance, the oncology category where disease may be incurable would seem to not be an appropriate place. And that may be true for pharma marketers, but as Ziekert noticed when doing research for oncology products, she found “tons of humor” from patients themselves on social media.

“The audience is allowed to do a lot of humor, but we as marketers are not able to encroach in that space,” she said. “There’s a line of respectability. If I myself have a condition, I may be able to make fun of that condition … There was one in cancer specifically with a person (on social media) talking about how much weight she lost as a side benefit that nobody talked about, and that may be funny when a person with cancer says it, but if we were to say that on TV, we’d be crossing a line that would show a lack of respect.”

Even treading carefully with humor though, pharma brands still need to be prepared for possible backlash.

“As a content creator, you need to be ready for all manner of responses and handle them respectfully. ‘We appreciate your feedback.’ …  But having done the homework is the entry fee,” Ziekert said.

The homework is testing, testing and more testing — with real people, patients, physicians, caregivers and more and in real-world channels as well before launching a campaign. Consultants such as Kantar have developed scientific methods to track reactions to humor at detailed level.

Facial coding, for instance, records the changing expressions on peoples’ faces as they’re watching an ad. Kantar also asks the viewers questions about the humor and emotions felt and syncs the data.

“We can check at which point, if you’ve made a joke, at what point are people actually finding it funny — and sometimes that may be a completely wrong point,” Jones said. “The idea is that the point where you see the rising and the bit where they find it funny that kind of needs to be around the brand. If you can get your brand in at those points as well, you’ve got a winning ad.”

Despite overall dropoffs in humor in general advertising and in pharma, there is some hope for the future and a return to more lightheartedness.

“The mood of the pandemic affected the mood of how creative was being evaluated both internally at agencies and by clients. It definitely put a certain kind of tone on the work that I think is going away,” Hessel said.

And considering the 20-year humor ad slide, it wasn’t just the pandemic that pushed more serious themes and tones.

“Even before the pandemic, we had a phase where there was a lot of heartfelt, purposeful advertising which became known as ‘sadvertising,’ It was all very emotional but sad at the same time, and I think people were beginning to reach a point where they really would like humor to come back,” Jones said.

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OraSure Technologies’ CFO Makes Bold Insider Purchase, Reigniting Investor Confidence

Executive Kenneth McGrath’s $500,000 buy read as promising signal about future for diagnostic test developer OraSure Technologies (NASDAQ:OSUR) saw…




Executive Kenneth McGrath’s $500,000 buy read as promising signal about future for diagnostic test developer

OraSure Technologies (NASDAQ:OSUR) saw a stock price re-rate on Thursday, climbing 11% after investors became aware of its CFO Kenneth McGrath buying shares in the diagnostic test developer.  This latest rally in OSUR stock, gives traders and investors hope that the strong momentum from the beginning of 2023 might return.

OSUR shares had mounted an impressive 54% rally for 2023 through to May 10, when the first-quarter results update spooked investors. 

The CFO’s trade was initially spotted on Fintel’s Insider Trading Tracker following the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Big Holdings Boost

In the Form 4 filing, McGrath, who assumed CFO duties in August 2022, disclosed buying 100,000 shares on May 30 in the approved trading window that was open post results.

McGrath on average paid $4.93 per share, giving the total transaction a value just shy of $500,000 and boosted his total share count ownership to 285,512 shares.

The chart below from the insider trading and analysis report for OSUR shows the share price performance and profit made from company officers in previous transactions:

OraSure Technologies

Prior to joining OraSure, McGrath had an impressive eight-year tenure at Quest Diagnostics (NYSE:DGX), where he rose to the position of VP of Finance before departing. This is the first time that the CFO has bought stock in the company since August 2022. It is also worth noting that the purchase followed strong Q1 financial results, which exceeded Street forecasts.

Revenue Doubles

In its recently published Q1 update, OraSure Technologies told investors that it generated a whopping 129% increase in revenue to $155 million, surpassing analyst expectations of around $123 million. 

Notably, the revenue growth was driven primarily by the success of OraSure’s COVID-19 products, which accounted for $118.4 million in revenue for the quarter and grew 282% over the previous year.

The surge in revenue for this product was largely driven by the federal government’s school testing program, which led to record test volumes. However, it is important to note that demand for InteliSwab is expected to decline in Q2 2023, prompting OraSure to scale down its COVID-19 production operations. As part of its broader strategy to consolidate manufacturing, the company plans to close an overseas production facility.

While the COVID-19 products division has been instrumental in OraSure’s recent success, its core business delivered stable flat sales of $36.6 million during the quarter. 

In terms of net income, OraSure achieved an impressive result of $27.2 million, or $0.37 per share, in Q1, marking a significant improvement compared to the loss of $19.9 million, or a loss of $0.28 per share, in the same period last year. This result exceeded consensus forecasts of $0.16 per share. As of the end of the quarter, the company held $112.4 million in cash and cash equivalents.

Looking ahead to Q2, OraSure has provided revenue guidance in the range of $62 to $67 million, reflecting the lower order activity from the US government with $25 to $30 million expected sales for InteliSwab. The declining Covid related sales have been a core driver of the share price weakness in recent weeks.

While sales are likely to fall in the coming quarters, one positive for the company is its low debt balance during this period of rising cash rates. The chart below from Fintels financial metrics and ratios page for OSUR shows the cash flow performance of the business over the last five years.

OraSure Technologies

Analyst Opinions

Stephen’s analyst Jacob Johnson thinks that outside of Covid, OSUR continues to execute on several cost and partnership initiatives which he believes appears to be bearing fruit. Johnson pointed out that three partnerships were signed during the quarter.

The analyst thinks that the ex-Covid growth story will be the new focus for investors from now on. The brokerage maintained its ‘equal-weight’ recommendation and $6.50 target price on the stock, matching Fintel’s consensus target price, suggesting OSUR stock could rise a further 29% in the next 12 months. 

The post OraSure Technologies’ CFO Makes Bold Insider Purchase, Reigniting Investor Confidence appeared first on Fintel.

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UC Davis C-STEM trains Redlands teachers on bringing computer science into math

Twenty-five teachers from Redlands Unified School District in southern California recently completed training in integrating computer science into math…



Twenty-five teachers from Redlands Unified School District in southern California recently completed training in integrating computer science into math education through a joint program offered by the University of California, Davis, and UC Riverside Extension. The Joint Computer Science Supplementary Teaching Credential Authorization Program has helped Redlands address gaps in student opportunity and achievement, and teachers’ skills.

Credit: Redlands Unified School District

Twenty-five teachers from Redlands Unified School District in southern California recently completed training in integrating computer science into math education through a joint program offered by the University of California, Davis, and UC Riverside Extension. The Joint Computer Science Supplementary Teaching Credential Authorization Program has helped Redlands address gaps in student opportunity and achievement, and teachers’ skills.

“Improving math instruction for student success is the most challenging task in education. Redlands partnered with UC Davis to make math instruction with computer science a reality for many of our students who have historically disconnected from learning math,” said Ken Wagner, assistant superintendent of Redlands Unified School District. “More students are demonstrating resilience and persistence in their math progression than ever before, which to us, is an immeasurable outcome.”

Redlands is the first school district in the nation that has 25 teachers who have gone through four college-level courses needed to earn their credential. This innovative practice is transforming public K-12 math and computer science education.

“C-STEM training and use of the robotics and programming skills that are taught has been the best professional development training of my 28-year career,” said teacher Roland Hosch. “I am very grateful to be a part of it and my classroom is a more efficient and more effective place to learn because of it.”

Transforming math education

The UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education, or C-STEM, program aims to transform K-12 math, computer science and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education through integrated learning. Students learn to solve math and algebra problems through coding and by programming small, modular robots. The C-STEM Math-ICT curriculumprovides up to 13 years of integrated math and computer science teaching from kindergarten through high school. C-STEM courses have UC A-G status, satisfying admissions requirements for the University of California and California State Universities.  

Redlands USD implemented the C-STEM program in 2018 to narrow the achievement gap in math and address the opportunity gap in computing. The district has expanded from two middle school teachers initially to 35 teachers, including all the district’s middle and high schools as well as six elementary schools, in 2022-23. 

Redlands has seen results with the program. From the 2018-19 school year to 2021-22, average scores on the mathematics diagnostic testing project (MDTP) rose by more than 13% in C-STEM classes compared to peers in traditional math classes in the same schools. (Redlands students can choose either a C-STEM math track, plus a computer science class, or a traditional math class.) 

“C-STEM brings joy into the classroom,” said Deepika Srivastava, STEAM coordinator for the Redlands school district. If you give a student a worksheet of math problems and they get 20 or 30% right, it tells the student “You’re bad at this,” she said. 

“But if they are trying to solve a problem by writing a program, they can get it 20 or 30% right, get some feedback, and improve. When you’re solving a math problem by coding, it’s an iterative process, there’s constant feedback,” she said. “It encourages students to keep trying and develops skills in critical thinking, problem solving and perseverance.” 

Further, she said that the C-STEM math classes have become more diverse, with more representation of girls, Black and Latinx students, and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Perhaps most significantly, surveys of students entering and completing the program show a big swing from “I hate math” to “I enjoy math.” 

Addressing the opportunity gap

“Redlands is a good example of a school district working with C-STEM to address the ‘opportunity gap’ in math education,” said Harry Cheng, director of the C-STEM center and professor in the UC Davis Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Schools are working to get students back on track after the pandemic. The students are doing better, closing the achievement gap and teachers are learning new skills, closing the skills gap.”

Srivastava, who visits all the district classrooms using the C-STEM program, said that the program also has positive effects on student behavior. 

“When a kid fails at math, they get the message that they’re not good at math and then they don’t give 100%. But when they’re building a robot, their entire attitude changes. I truly believe this is where the future is.” 

The UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education is a comprehensive program that includes the annual RoboPlay competition in which students compete with other schools to solve challenges with coding and robotics. In addition to K-12 curricula and professional development for teachers, the center also supports schools and districts to organize their afterschool and summer programs, including robotics camps, robotics-math camps, the Girls In Robotics Leadership (GIRL/GIRL+) camps, and Ujima GIRL Project for African American middle and high school girls. 

“Ever since the pandemic, we have been challenged to find new ways to engage our students,” said teacher Noah Rosen. “The investment that Redlands Unified has made in my continued training in C-STEM has provided me with a whole new treasure chest of tools that I can use to elevate the effectiveness of my classroom instruction through computer science.”

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COVID-19 Testing Resumes In Beijing, Shandong, As Reinfection Cases Surge

COVID-19 Testing Resumes In Beijing, Shandong, As Reinfection Cases Surge

Authored by Alex Wu via The Epoch Times,

China has resumed COVID-19…



COVID-19 Testing Resumes In Beijing, Shandong, As Reinfection Cases Surge

Authored by Alex Wu via The Epoch Times,

China has resumed COVID-19 PCR testing in Beijing and Shandong Province amid rising re-infections, while the regime’s top health advisers have warned of a new wave of mass infections.

Since May 29, mainland netizens have posted on Chinese social media platforms that PCR test kiosks in Beijing are quietly back in business.

Mainland media “City Interactive,” a subsidiary of Zhejiang “City Express,” reported on May 30 that one of the PCR testing booths that netizens posted about was in Beijing’s Xicheng District, where the central government and the Beijing municipal government are located.

The staff of that testing kiosk said that the PCR test there has never stopped, reported “City Interactive”, without being clear how long it had been open.

“We have been doing nucleic acid testing in Xicheng District, but I’m not sure about other districts in Beijing,” a staff member said.

The staff member said the laboratory she works for is mainly responsible for nucleic acid testing within Xicheng District. Currently, there are more than ten testing points outdoors, and one person is on duty for each booth from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Residents get swabbed during mass COVID-19 testing in the Chaoyang District in Beijing on June 14, 2022. (Andy Wong/AP Photo)

A testing kiosk in Chaoyang District, Beijing’s central business district, has been operating since March, reported “City Interactive.” The testing booth staff said it is in the health center near Jinsong Middle Street.

Ms. Wang, a Beijing resident, told The Epoch Times on May 28 that some people have taken the PRC test while others have chosen not to.

She said many people around her, including her child, have already re-infected twice.

“This time, the symptoms seem to include a high fever and then sore throat, very painful,” she said.

“Most people are just resting at home now. Seeing a doctor is very expensive, and now many medicines are paid for by ourselves.”

Gao Yu, a former senior media person in Beijing, confirmed what Wang said. She told The Epoch Times that the relatives around her have been re-infected two or three times, and most are just resting it off at home.

Shandong Resumes Testing

PCR testing booths in Qingdao City, Shandong Province, have also reopened.

A “Peninsula Metropolis Daily” report included a screenshot of an online notice posted by the Laoshan District Health Bureau in Qingdao, which announced that from May 29, the district will conduct COVID-19 PCR testing for “all people who are willing.”

It also listed the working hours of the testing sites, from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm, seven days a week.

Another mainland Chinese media, “Xinmin Evening News,” reported on May 31 that the staff in the district bureau confirmed that the testing has resumed and is for free.

Next Wave

Zhong Nanshan, China’s top respiratory disease specialist, predicted on May 22 that a new wave of COVID-19 infections in China will likely peak in late June when weekly cases could reach 65 million. Then, one Omicron-infected patient will be able to infect more than 30 people,  Zhong said, adding that the infection is difficult to prevent.

A security personnel in a protective suit keeps watch as medical workers attend to patients at the fever department of Tongji Hospital, a major facility for COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, Jan. 1, 2023. (Staff/Reuters)

Chinese citizens across the country have said on social media that infections have been swelling since March.

Zhong also said there had been a small peak in infections at the end of April and early May.

Most COVID-19 infections in mainland China are currently caused by the XBB series mutant strains of Omicron. Among the locally transmitted cases, the percentage of XBB series variants increased to 83.6 percent in early May from 0.2 percent in February.

Zhang Wenhong, China’s top virologist and director of China’s National Center for Infectious Diseases, also warned in late April at a conference that COVID-19 infections would reoccur after six months when immunity gained from prior infections has worn out.

Tyler Durden Fri, 06/02/2023 - 11:20

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