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CNN Prescribes New Eli Lilly Commercials For Glen Campbell Documentary

CNN has a new advertising prescription: Take a documentary about a music star afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and mix it with a pharmaceutical sponsor that wants consumers to recognize its efforts to find a cure for the devastating ailment.

When the Time Warner-owned cable-news network airs “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me,” on Sunday, June 28, it will do so under very rare circumstances. The movie looks at singer Glen Campbell, best known for songs like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Gentle on My Mind,” and his struggle with the ravages of the disease. It will air with only a limited number of commercials, marking the first time CNN has ever aired a film in that fashion (though it has done similar things for select series and special reports). Pitches tied to Eli Lilly & Co.’s efforts to find a cure for the problem will appear just before the film starts, at one point in the middle of the documentary, and then just after it ends.

Watching the documentary is bound to be an emotional experience for someone who has a friend or family member who suffers from the disease, said Phyllis Barkman Ferrell, Eli Lilly’s global Alzheimer’s disease team leader. “We don’t want it to feel like a pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer advertisement,” she said, adding: “We didn’t want to have that emotional experience interrupted.”

The deal is the latest by CNN that attempts to create very unique kinds of advertising tied directly to a specific piece of programming. In March of last year, the network enlisted Allstate to serve as a “presenting sponsor” of the eight-part series “Chicagoland.” In the first ad break of the first episode, Tom Wilson, Allstate’s chairman, president and CEO, appeared and spoke directly to viewers about the show.

Such commercials likely could not appear in another program or on another network and be as relevant or effective. CNN wants to attract more “bespoke content and sponsorships,” said Katrina Cukaj, executive vice president of advertising sales for CNN.

As part of the pact, Lilly is taking part in “tune in” promotional efforts to get viewers to watch the documentary. CNN promos that began running this week prod viewers to visit a digital site devoted to “I’ll Be Me,” where CNN health journalists are posting content about Alzheimer’s. The site will soon feature only ads from Eli Lilly, which also is offering sponsored content. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, appears in some of the promos.

Eli Lilly will not tout any specific medications in the three commercials it runs June 28, said Ferrell. Instead, the company is eager to develop a community of people interested in the disease while highlighting the importance of checking with doctors when potential symptoms surface and of taking part in clinical trials that aim to treat Alzheimer’s. Such marketing techniques are often tapped by pharmaceutical companies to get people interested in medications they may have to offer at a later date.

“We want this to be our gift to patients and people suffering from this disease,” said Ferrell. “We are not asking something of them. We are trying to give something to them.”

The three ads shown during the documentary will include a 30-second spot featuring Eli Lilly CEO John C. Lechleiter talking about why the company is sponsoring the movie; a 30-second spot that pushes viewers to visit a Web page devoted to the film; and a 75-second public service announcement from Ron Peterson, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, discussing new developments in research. Lilly worked with Omnicom Group’s OMD to place the commercials while Interpublic Group’s FCB helped craft some of the ads.

The three ads will also run in a second airing of the documentary on CNN in November, but the program will be accompanied by a more typical load of commercials.

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