“The X-Files” Parody, Pushing A Drug

The X-Files” was a TV series that ran from 1995 to 2002. The recent broadcast is showing now–and it reminds me of an assignment on January 7,1997, when I received a call from an art director at FCB / Healthcare, to work on a storyboard for Biaxin, Abbott Laboratories. At the agency, the copywriter was creating the script. The art director suggested that, before coming in to the agency, I should videotape a showing of “The X-Files” to study the characters, Mulder and Scully and also study the mood of the mystery.
The lines from the first page of the script that was faxed to me, titled:
Treatment for Product Rep Video
“The BiaXin-Files”: The Cure Is Out There
“Main Characters” were described as Agent Mildew and Agent Scuzzy.

I had always thought that a peptic ulcer was caused by stress but the copy of this assignment taught me that it is often caused from H-pylori bacteria (Helicobacter-pylori). In 1985, Abbott Labs had partnered with a Japanese drug company to fight bacterial infections. Abbott Labs got the FDA approval for Biaxin in 1991.

By the time that I arrived at the agency, with these sketches, the art director had developed this rough storyboard for me to follow. My image of the H-pylori bacteria is the sharp-toothed eel-like image that I found and clipped from my extensive scrap file. I colored this creature in the brightest, glowing colors that would make the creature stand out in the dark video.
Following the art director’s 24 frames, my intermediate frames of the storyboard got approval from the agency.

There was one more version drawn with more detail and presented on boards for approval of the client, Abbott Labs.
Since I was working at home and at the agency, my time-sheet (I am surprised that I kept it) shows the hours and locations as I was developing the beginning, intermediate and final drawings. First, the hours I worked were weekdays and then there was also a lot of weekend, overtime hours, as it neared the deadline. I don’t have the final perfected storyboard, it was kept by the agency, but the timesheet for the last version–shows that I spent the average of 27 minutes on each frame.
As my part of this promotional campaign ended, I moved on to other jobs for other clients, so I never found out if the video was actually produced. Could they find actor / look-alikes, find locations and afford the special effects for such a spoof? The video would have been very expensive and probably was to be shown at conferences or parties, tied in with a trade show. I don’t know how this video could educate the reps with information to use as they represented Biaxin to doctors and medical centers.
(There was, at the end of the video, a “doctor” with a closing message. Copy for this was not included with the script. This might have contained important information for the product representatives.)

As I was preparing this report, I was able to find a clue suggesting that the parody had been produced. I studied the collection of “images” that came with the search of: Biaxin. Here were many “Tchotchkes–free promotional items dispensed at trade shows, conventions, and similar commercial events”. (This is a term that I learned when first working for pharmaceutical agencies).

In this collection, I spotted the same kind of “bacteria monster” (that I had introduced in my storyboard) shown on a wall clock! There is no date for the clock, but if it was made in 1997, it might have been handed out at the time of the showing of “The Biaxin-Files”!

Then and now, the question: how could the Abbott sales force get any information from the video to aid them as they represented Biaxin to the medical world? Medical journal ads, trade shows, patient aids, product information, conferences, and direct reports to the reps are all of value– but giving reps: clothing, pens, plush toys, etc.? There must be a reason for rewarding product reps, with small gifts, beyond paying them. Some items could have been passed on during the rep’s appointments. The entertaining motivational video and giveaways were probably paid for by patients, as “research and development”.

Ann Thompson