Until recently, RLS was virtually unknown by patients and was under the radar for most healthcare providers who didn't have
an effective means to treat it. The approval of GSK's Requip in 1997 and the subsequent launch of a disease-awareness campaign
for RLS in 2005 gave an identity to the tormenting affliction. Patients who had suffered with RLS for years celebrated the
acknowledgement, thinking, "I'm not crazy after all." And physicians celebrated, too, realizing, "Hey, I can help." The result
is that thousands of untreated patients went to their physicians and are now experiencing relief.
Disease branding is also an effective way to drive the market to a different way of thinking about a condition that is socially
stigmatized. As an example, consider how Pfizer's Detrol transformed the archaic and demeaning idea of "incontinence" into
the more positively accepted "overactive bladder."
By definition, "continence" is about self-control; and therefore anyone who is incontinent lacks control. By rebranding the
condition as overactive bladder—a slight physical malfunction rather than an emotional shortcoming—Pfizer was able to eliminate
many of the negative connotations that previously made patients embarrassed to admit they had the condition.
As overactive bladder became a more commonly known disease, patients felt more comfortable self-identifying and seeking help,
and physicians were better equipped to provide a medically therapeutic answer along with the usual behavioral guidance (e.g.
drink less, avoid going to places where toilets are scarce, etc.).
Lilly also effectively eliminated a stigma when it developed a disease-awareness campaign for an emotional condition surrounding
menstruation—PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder)—in conjunction with the promotion of its antidepressant Sarafem (or Prozac).
The condition that used to be called "wild mood swings" and trivialized as a necessary evil that women should just "get over,"
is actually a disorder that is hormonally mediated and, more importantly, treatable. The condition brand, PMDD, is aptly reflective
of the situation it seeks to address. It has a medical ring to it, emphasizing the fact that it is, indeed, worthy of serious
consideration. Yet, it is also easily and discreetly summed up in its acronym so that patients can feel as comfortable in
discussing it as healthcare professionals are.
The brand PMDD—like all good disease/condition brands—acts as a password between the two audiences, empowering both parties
to take action and facilitating diagnosis and treatment.
HOW TO LAUNCH A SUCCESSFUL DISEASE-BRANDING CAMPAIGN
When considering a disease-branding initiative, pharma companies should first consider whether it is even right for the product.
While it can be an extremely effective marketing strategy, it doesn't work for all drugs.
Biotech and pharma companies should develop clear protocols for disease-branding initiatives as well as criteria for when
such initiatives should be launched. Three questions that can help:
- Does the product impact a disease or condition in a new way?
- Are there stigmas/social concerns about the condition that can hinder customer self-identification and the patient–physician
- Does your product have significant benefits for a little-known condition?
Once the brand team has determined that disease branding is an appropriate approach, the next step is to conduct customer-insight
research to gain a baseline understanding of consumer and professional beliefs and behaviors. In addition, an audit of the
scientific literature is critical to assess existing terminology, trends, and historical attempts to rewrite the condition.
The marketing team should then enlist the help of key opinion leaders in the field to generate scientific concepts that capture
a more enlightened perspective of the given condition. Best practices advise that this activity take place in a one-day workshop
for several reasons. Aside from the obvious efficiencies of blocking out the calendars of key marketing and medical professionals,
the workshop venue allows each of the participants to hear and respond to what others are thinking, brainstorming ideas in
greater number and clarity.