Recently, a number of pharmaceutical companies have featured animation and cartoon characters in their consumer drug advertising as they attempt to distinguish themselves from a crowded field.
Examples abound. Pfizer’s Zoloft uses a sad, anthropomorphic blob to illustrate depression. Valeant Pharmaceuticals recently debuted an animated “gut guy” to depict irritable bowel syndrome in a high profile Super Bowl ad for Xifaxan. The effects of the sleep aid Lunesta are illustrated by a butterfly.
The animations have caught the eye of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which plans to study whether animations or cartoon characters indirectly influence consumer behavior. “Animated characters may lead to lower perceived risk by minimizing or camouflaging side effects,” the FDA said in announcing the planned study.
Another major pharma company, Boehringer Ingelheim, has turned to schools of cheery red fish to market its blood thinner Pradaxa, and educate patients of its new reversal agent.
First approved by the FDA in 2010, Pradaxa has been touted as a replacement to the standard warfarin. However, serious bleeding incidents in patients led BI to settle thousands of lawsuits for $650 million in 2014.
However, last October, the FDA approved Praxbind, a reversal agent for dabigatran---the active ingredient in Pradaxa. This represented a major game-changer for the company.
The red fish metaphor
Educating consumers about atrial fibrillation (Afib) was the primary goal of Denise Strauss, VP of Cardiovascular Marketing at BI, and her creative team when they put together the ‘red fish’ campaign for Pradaxa.
The drug is currently indicated to reduce the risk of stroke and systemic embolism in patients with Afib (non-valvular). However, Strauss and co. discovered many patients didn’t fully understand the condition.
First launched in January, the ads feature red, computer-generated fish calmly swimming through blood vessels. The red fish represent red blood cells as they move through the body’s vasculature and help illustrate how Afib-related clots can lead to stroke.
The role of consumer insights
“The campaign was driven by consumer insights. We conducted market research with hundreds of patients and found that they did not really understand their condition. However, when describing how atrial fibrillation feels, they said that it feels like a fish fluttering in their chest,” Strauss explained.
In a minute and half spot, the commercial explains Pradaxa was proven superior to warfarin at reducing the risk of stroke without regular blood tests—a major selling point of Pradaxa. The campaign includes print and digital ads, as well as television spots on both network and cable stations.
“We wanted to reach people where they are, and the red fish translate easily across media,” Strauss said. “We heard during our research that the red fish has tremendous appeal. It’s soothing, but it also demonstrates how Afib, and medical treatment of Afib, affects the body.”
A new competitive advantage
The red fish campaign also highlights the recently approved reversal agent Praxbind, which was okayed by the FDA last October. Praxbind is specifically approved for use with Pradaxa, and counteracts the blood thinning effects by binding to the drug compound.
Other oral anticoagulants are indicated for Afib, but Praxbind sets Pradaxa apart from competitor products, including Pfizer/Bristol Myers-Squibb’s Eliquis or Johnson & Johnson’s Xarelto.
“The launch of Praxbind provided us an opportunity to approach consumers with a new campaign and a new message,” Strauss said. The goal was to “cut through the clutter” and educate patients with a simple, easy-to-understand campaign that has staying power.
BI hopes the campaign will further drive sales of Pradaxa as it pursues new indications, the latest of which came in November 2015 for deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism after hip replacement surgery.