Just Ask the Furry Faces of Arthritis
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Just Ask the Furry Faces of Arthritis

Canine osteoarthritis is a painful and debilitating disease that affects one in five adult dogs. To ease dogs’ pain, veterinarians have many options, including a growing number of prescription NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) brands.

Paul Holmes

Canine osteoarthritis is a painful and debilitating disease that affects one in five adult dogs. To ease dogs’ pain, veterinarians have many options, including a growing number of prescription NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) brands. One such brand is Novartis Animal Health’s Deramaxx.

Leading into 2004, Deramaxx was facing a daunting landscape: six competitive products, including a powerful market leader heavily supported by veterinary and consumer marketing that owned nearly 70 percent of the $100 million market; a shrinking window of media relations opportunities whittled down by years of successful public relations efforts by competitors; and the end of its “newest” or “most scientifically advanced” status, as newer and similarly advanced brands had since entered the marketplace.

Nevertheless, 2004 sales projections were aggressive. With a limited marketing budget, Novartis turned to Colle+McVoy Public Relations to develop a multifaceted campaign that would increase awareness and demand for Deramaxx.

Four focus groups, online surveys and dozens of one-on-one interviews with veterinarians and pet owners confirmed that key audiences needed more education to recognize canine arthritis as a painful disease: awareness of the disease was the biggest barrier to treatment. Nearly 88 percent of dog owners said they would be willing to give their dog pain relief medication if their pet displayed signs of pain, Veterinarians remained the biggest influencers on purchase of medications by pet owners. Since veterinarians don’t have time to educate their clients, the opportunity existed to take on consumer education and direct-to-consumer efforts work because veterinarians will usually prescribe medications specifically requested by their clients.

The Novartis Animal Health Attitudes, Awareness and Usage (AAU) Report also revealed three particularly surprising insights into the category: nine out of 10 pet owners believe their veterinarian’s advice for medical treatment is paramount, word of mouth is also highly important, because many dog owners rely on friends and family recommendations and owners of dogs who receive Deramaxx are particularly thankful for the drug and have a positive emotional connection to the brand. The campaign would need to tap into the strength of this brand loyalty.

Colle+McVoy applied these objectives and research to develop a campaign to fuel grassroots support of Deramaxx and spread that support exponentially. Pet owners and their passion for Deramaxx became catalysts for changed behavior nationwide. The “Just Ask” campaign sought dog owners who had “just asked” their veterinarian about canine arthritis and whose dogs’ lives had been changed because of it. These dogs and dog owners became the heart of the campaign, harnessing their passion for Deramaxx to spread the message to other dog owners: “Just ask your veterinarian about Deramaxx.”

Before the Just Ask campaign even began issuing a consumer call to action to “just ask your veterinarian,” it employed tactics directed at veterinary clinics to help staff better recognize the signs of canine arthritis, diagnose the disease with arthritis exams and prescribe Deramaxx.

Just Ask began with an outreach plan to identify a core group of grassroots support — people who would lend their stories to the Just Ask campaign. In six short weeks, the collection point at IJustAsk.com was inundated with more than 3,000 stirring emails, poems, essays, photos, lyrics and thank-you cards about Deramaxx and how it has changed the lives of dogs prescribed this drug. Dog owners still submit entries weekly.

Backed by such a positive response, C+M created a photo mosaic involving more than 1,100 dogs helped by Deramaxx. The mosaic served as a tribute to dogs who suffer from the daily pain of arthritis. This collection of photos and stories became the centerpiece for the campaign. The Just Ask network of local dogs and dog owners was established. These pet owner advocates became field spokespeople who shared their personal testimonials about arthritis and Deramaxx with others.

Advocates were armed with resources (such as postcards, posters, pass-along rebates, online tools) to spread information to friends and family. A new web site, IJustAsked.com provided a forum and an information resource.

The photo mosaic was enlarged into giant wallscapes to serve as a tribute to dogs suffering from arthritis. The giant murals debuted in May during the Arthritis Foundation’s National Arthritis Month and covered entire buildings in New York City’s Times Square, on Los Angeles’ Sunset Blvd., in the San Francisco financial district and in downtown Dallas — locations selected for their high-profile status near major media outlets and their ability to create positive word of mouth.

Using individual dogs from the mosaic, Colle+McVoy provided local stories and spokespeople to local media. Simultaneously, using the whole mosaic as a backdrop, Colle+McVoy delivered an emotional trend story with national repercussions to national media. The mosaic made these dogs famous, but it was the stories behind the mosaic that secured feature news coverage in hometowns across the country. Hundreds of dog owners in major metro areas became part of the Just Ask Network, serving as both field representatives in their public outreach efforts and campaign spokespeople that used their “Deramaxx Dogs” as the focus of the interviews on television, radio and in print.

A comprehensive electronic media kit supported national media relations efforts, but was tailored for local efforts to provide the information and format most appropriate for each media outlet or beat. In areas where there were no “Deramaxx Dogs” from the mosaic, the news package delivered Just Ask footage and featured a dog from the mosaic who had a particularly compelling story. For media interested in the broad scope of Just Ask, a veterinarian specializing in arthritis served as a national spokesperson. Dr. Brian Beale used the wallscapes and dogs featured in the mosaic as backdrops for his interviews.

A post-campaign survey of pet owners reveals one in four pet owners now recognize Deramaxx and 73 percent of owners of arthritic dogs rate Deramaxx as good to excellent. Deramaxx has become one of the animal health industry’s largest brands during its second year and, according to The Brakke Report, is the fastest growing, first-choice canine arthritis medication.
Grassroots outreach helped generate more than 67,000 unique visitors to the campaign Web site as advocates shared their personal experiences with canine arthritis with neighbors. These testimonials also helped generate broad nationwide media exposure.

More than 74 million impressions were generated during the campaign, 9 million impressions above the Novartis goal. News coverage appeared in each of the top 20 markets.

TV coverage included national news programming such as the CBS “Early Show,” CNBC and FamilyNet.

Print media covered Deramaxx extensively with 356 total placements, including The New York Times, Associated Press (2x), Detroit Free Press, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Diego Union-Tribune and Miami Herald.

The PSA debuted nationwide in July and, to date, has been aired in 63 unique markets with a reach of 5.9 million – despite the flood of election advertising filling the airwaves.

The best indicator of Just Ask’s success was Deramaxx’s significant rise in sales and growing category share.

The goal was achieved with 17,000 clinics nationwide (70 percent) while Just Ask helped Deramaxx become one of the most prescribed medications in veterinary medicine. While the market grew 21 percent over 2003, Deramaxx sales volume grew by 40 percent.

Sales were 15 percent higher than Novartis’ aggressive forecast (specific sales figures considered confidential) and he drug captured more than 25 percent of the market — increasing from 19 percent a year ago, overtaking three competitors and eating nearly 6 percent into the dominant drug’s market share. With momentum entering 2005, Deramaxx is projected to continue its strong surge of sales as the Just Ask campaign continues.

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