NEW YORK: AstraZeneca, the pharma company, successfully tapped into patient advocacy as part of a campaign it developed to kickstart a conversation around opioid-induced constipation (OIC).

Alison Papandrea, a Marketing Leader at AstraZeneca, discussed this subject at the 2017 ePharma Summit, an event convened by KNect365.

Her starting point was an unbranded spot the company ran during the 2016 Super Bowl, which took a light-hearted but empathetic approach to the topic of OIC by focusing on a man who envied the bowel movements of everyone he saw.

While AstraZeneca's Movantik brand is the market leader in this space, Papandrea argued the most important goal was to show it was on the side of patients – many of which do not talk about their condition due to embarrassment and the stigma associated with taking opioids.

"We were really cognisant of all the dialogue that is dialed up around the opioid epidemic and responsible use," she said. (For more details, read Warc's exclusive event report: How AstraZeneca courted controversy to build a brand.)

"We wanted to make sure we were perceived as being the advocate for the patient. Because, ultimately, that was what mattered."

In pursuing this objective, the pharma manufacturer drew on the opinions of advocacy groups featuring individuals who live with relevant conditions.

"To make sure that happened we engaged with five of our advocacy groups," said Papandrea. "These were national advocacy groups that represented patients who are living with chronic pain.

"We asked them straight out. We said, 'We want to do this initiative. We wanted to have this TV spot. And we wanted to run it on the Super Bowl. And we would like for them to be partners.'

"They signed up in a big way and we were very excited that we were going to be bringing this forward on behalf of the patients."

And this support proved invaluable as the ad prompted a critical response – as anticipated by AstraZeneca – from numerous commentators and consumers, including suggestions the firm was simply trying to profit from the opioid epidemic.

"Having the advocacy groups as partners was huge," Papandrea said. "When issues came up in the media relative to the opioid epidemic, in many cases it was our partners who were able to jump in and again represent that patient."

Data sourced from WARC