A gutsy move: Valeant runs Super Bowl commercial for Xifaxan

Valeant Pharmaceuticals had another Super Bowl commercial this year: It featured its anthropomorphized intestine to advertise IBS drug Xifaxan.


Valeant Pharmaceuticals let loose its anthropomorphized, antsy “Gut Guy” during the third quarter of the 2016 Super Bowl. This ad for diarrhea drug Xifaxan is already making a splash: You can see the commercial here.

But, considering the steep costs of Super Bowl ads, is it funny enough to excuse Valeant’s shameless price gouging?

Many figured that the pharmaceutical industry would lay low this year and not advertise during the Super Bowl: Drug pricing remains a sensitive topic to the broader public. And yet Valeant, one of the most scrutinized of the pharmas, chose to go ahead with its costly advertising plan.

Of course, the Super Bowl commercial is entertaining: A wiggly, distressed animated intestine is shown running through the stands in search of relief – worried about missing the Super Bowl but unable to control nature’s call. It’s certainly relatable for the countless squirming footballs fans around the country that are digesting buckets of hot wings and beer.

But this remains a gutsy move – because beyond its pricing woes, Valeant’s been under scrutiny for employing questionable practices on reporting revenue. It seems an odd choice to burst so boldly into the spotlight.

This year, advertisers are spending up to $5 million per 30 second time slot during the Super Bowl. And Valeant reportedly has spent some $20 million on marketing for the IBS drug since October.

And Valeant came under political fire this past September for dramatically increasing drug prices, particularly after acquiring another company. It was said to raise the prices of its branded drugs as much as 66 percent last year. Valeant interim CEO Howard Schiller was questioned Thursday about these practices at a congressional hearing on drug prices (joined by former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli).

Valeant picked up Xifaxan as part of its $11 billion buyout last year of Salix Pharmaceuticals. Xifaxan is an antibiotic being marketed directly to consumers to treat irritable bowel syndrome, and other forms of nausea and diarrhea. This isn’t the first “Gut Guy” Xifaxan advertisement Valeant has up its sleeve – this one’s been making the rounds since last fall.

And this isn’t the first time Valeant has purchased Super Bowl ad space: Last year, Valeant advertised its foot fungus drug, Jublia, during the big game. Former CEO Michael Pearson said in an investor call that its marketing plan for Xifaxan will resemble the campaign last year for Jublia, but “maybe turbocharged a little bit.” A commercial for Jublia actually made an appearance towards the close of this year’s game.