Killing fatal diseases - by numbers

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The Independent Culture
CORPORATE advertising - the kind that pumps companies' reputations rather than selling their products - has always been heavy on Amazing Statistics. Did you realise Block & Tackle produced more rubberised roofing felt than all its western European competitors put together last year? And did you know how many times that output could girdle the Earth? (It's called dramatising the Chairman's AGM address.)

Glaxo Wellcome, the third-largest company in the Footsie, is set on this trad, reliable pattern in its new ads, executed with a massive weight of gravitas and concern. GW has been criticised for the ways it's alleged to have marketed its Aids drug AZT, and GW want informed opinion- formers to think favourable thoughts about them, so there's a major showing of Awesome Numbers. "Why," asks one of those World at War contralto voice-overs, "have thousands of scientists spent 12 years and over pounds 500m researching an organism one 10,000th of a millimetre in size?" Because the HIV virus has already killed more people than died in the Allied Forces in the First World War. On-screen a livid-orange electron-microscope picture of a virus moves around in the way that viruses do, and resolves itself into the image of a poppy.

In another treatment, the same voice asks why 55,000 people are committed to fighting some bacteria so tiny that a million of them could cluster on the head of a pin. Because just one could infect you with tuberculosis. And, over the next 20 years, TB is predicted to kill more people than died in all the wars this century. And the greenish TB bacteria resolve themselves into the shape of a bomb.

"Man has no greater enemy than disease; disease has no greater enemy than Glaxo Wellcome" is the sign-off line. It's a familiar formula effectively done without the extravagant production values of New Age corporate commercials. Stick to GW's empire of the microscope and let the numbers speak for themselves is the strategy.