Shire wants consumers and their eyes to be 'Friends'
Traditionally a rare disease company, Shire has been expanding into ophthalmology for the last few years and is hoping to be one of the major players in the space – particularly now that it has its first approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the therapeutic area.
Shire garnered approval for its first ophthalmology product, the dry eye disease treatment Xiidra (lifitegrast), in July. Now it's making a huge push to educate consumers about the condition – "America's girlfriend" Jennifer Aniston is going to help.
The rare disease company launched the eyelove campaign in late-August with both print and television ads featuring the movie star who talks about how dry, itchy and irritated eyes affect her daily life. Perry Sternberg, head of U.S. commercial for Shire, told BioPharma Dive in an interview that the campaign is about emphasizing the beautiful things we can do with our eyes. "It's a different approach and not based on the idea of fear [that you see in many other medical ads]," he said.
It's a massive media push by the company, including celebrity and non-celebrity broadcast TV spots, print ads in lifestyle publications, online videos featuring real women talking about eyelove, videos streaming on native/social media, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Hulu.
While Americans have only been focused on Jen's blue eyes for a couple months, the campaign started long before that. Shire's Head of Ophthalmics Bob Dempsey said in an interview that the team began brainstorming about this campaign during a meeting in The Standard Hotel in New York City more than two years ago, when the head of ophthalmics marketing tasked the team with coming up with "something disruptive."
"This campaign really started three and half years ago when Shire decided to get into eyecare," added Sternberg. "We brought in a tremendous team of heathcare professionals who really understand the consumer side."
The campaign was handled by a small internal team that was supported by both Edelman PR and Digitas Health. The team focused on coming up with something that would appeal to both doctors and consumers. Shire decided that where other companies "zigged," they wanted to "zag," said Dempsey.
"What we really wanted to focus on was the patient, what was their needs. So we conducted a tremendous amount of research to understand what they were complaining about. So that was really the genesis. Eyelove, you really need to love your eyes, and dry eye is such a prevalent condition. We really want to be at the forefront of educating people about the disease," said Dempsey, who pointed out that about 30 million people have dry eye conditions in the U.S. "It's really the 'back-pain' of eyecare," he added.
Shire is not just rolling out the media ads with Aniston, but bolstering the campaign with interactive PR events. The company hosted the first of these interactive art installations on Oct. 7 and 8 on the High Line in New York City, a raised public art and park space that spans several miles of the West side of the city.
The event allowed members of the public to look into a binocular-like device that recorded the colors of their eye and then used those colors to make a unique piece of artwork. The company intends to bring the art installation to other cities, as well as medical conferences across the country. The campaign includes a website where consumers can get their eyelove artwork done based on a generic eye color.
Ultimately, the unbranded campaign is a springboard for launching Xiidra, which has the full force of Shire's 280-person strong ophthalmic sales force behind it. Dempsey said the eyelove campaign is something the company hopes to have around for some time and that will grow as Shire becomes more of a presence in the eye care community.
The Shire execs would not elaborate on the kind of attention the campaign is getting so far or how much Shire spent on the high-profile ads, but Dempsey noted that "the receptivity was very impressive."
The company currently has few offerings in the ophthalmic space, with only one Phase 3-ready candidate in the pipeline for infectious conjunctivitis and another that has completed Phase 2 for neonatal complications. Sternberg assured BioPharma Dive that business development in this space is going to be active as Shire builds out its presence.
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