Biotech calls on 'Poop Troop' to drive constipation awareness
- Small, New York-based Synergy Pharmaceuticals is hoping its newly approved constipation drug will vault the company into the ranks of profitable, commercial-stage biotechs. And it's turning to a brigade of 14 irreverent emoji characters personifying different kinds of bowel movements to help encourage conversation about the usually taboo topic.
- Inspired by the popular poop emoji used in texting, Synergy launched the "Poop Troop" characters as part of its marketing efforts following the launch of Trulance (plecanatide) in the U.S. last month.
- The Poop Troop, whose members include "Plugged-Up Paulie" and the exasperated "Runny Ron," are designed to help "people to better express the physical and emotional impact of chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC)," Synergy said in a release announcing the unbranded campaign.
While Synergy's efforts may strike some as a bit distasteful, finding a way to build awareness around a condition no one wants to talk about is a challenge.
CIC affects more than 30 million Americans, according to Synergy, and a good number of them are likely hesitant to discuss the uncomfortable physical symptoms associated with the condition.
"Many people with CIC feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about their symptoms with those closest to them, so they often suffer in silence,” said Julie Holcombe, senior director of marketing at Synergy.
Available as a keyboard extension for iOS and Android smartphones, the Poop Troop are part of a broader campaign titled "Confront Constipation" that's designed to boost dialogue about CIC.
Each poop emoji represents a type of bowel movement, such as constipation or diarrhea, and is designed to reflect emotions or adjectives CIC patients typically use to describe their experience. Hence "Stressed-Out Stooly," Ploptimistic Peter," or "Waterworks Wally."
The campaign is well-timed. Synergy launched Trulance last month at a wholesale acquisition cost of roughly $350 and has ramped up its field force to drive uptake. While initial sales numbers aren't available yet, Synergy's stock hasn't fared as well as one might expect for a company in the midst of launching its first commercial product: shares have fallen steadily over the last nine weeks.
But Synergy isn't the only biopharma to market around anthropomorphized poop. Allergan recently rolled out a multimedia "ToiletTalk" campaign featuring a smiling poop emoji. The campaign, which also involves the talk show host Wendy Williams, includes a video of men and women sitting on a toilet discussing their bowel movements.
Although no specific products are mentioned, Allergan has been working to drive sales of Viberzi (eluxadoline), its drug for irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea. The drug pulled in just under $100 million last year and has been battling Valeant's more successful Xifaxan (rifaximin) in the IBS-D market.
Despite its other woes, Valeant has seen success with Xifaxan, featuring the drug in its now classic "Gut Guy" commercials.
Campaigns like Synergy's and Allergan's can hit the mark as fun attempts at making a sensitive topic more accessible. Yet such awareness campaigns can draw criticism as well. AstraZeneca recently faced backlash for airing an unbranded ad discussing opioid-induced constipation during the Super Bowl, which some found tone-deaf given the ongoing opioid overdose crisis.
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