Brands and agencies are finding creative ways to explore the patient experience by placing viewers inside a hypothetical patient’s personal space.

Reviewing entries for the Manny Awards can be a lesson in pharmaceutical marketing trend-spotting. And so, not surprisingly, in looking over this year’s entries, we noticed an interesting thread. Three of the campaigns that were entered in the Best Experiential category, though developed by different companies and covering entirely different conditions and brands, took a common approach of creating hypothetical patient personal spaces and inviting audiences – in two cases physicians, in the other the sales force – to explore those spaces.
A trend? Perhaps. A useful tool? Definitely.

Challenges of Relapse Escape Room

The Challenges of Relapse Escape Room, designed to immerse participants in an actual bedroom of a patient with schizophrenia, was developed by the FCB agencies TRIO and Studio Rx for client Janssen Neuroscience and deployed at the May 2019 American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting. Ten clues relating to the challenges of relapse were hidden in the room; participants had five minutes to solve as many as possible. The experience, agency leaders say, translates into thinking about how HCPs can help delay time to relapse and stabilize patients living with schizophrenia – studies have shown that 82 to 92 percent of such patients have experienced a relapse in the past five years.

The genesis of the Escape Room idea came during Next: Innovation Week at FCB Health, an annual event that the FCB Health Network holds bringing together experts to showcase the latest offerings in virtual and augmented reality, social media, technology, and artificial intelligence, among other things. As clients from all of the FCB Health agencies are encouraged to attend, the TRIO team hosted its Janssen Neuroscience client at the event. “There was a lot of interest in what we could do around congresses going into Innovation Week, so we preemptively included our counterparts at Studio Rx, our network’s next-generation global production offering, whom we partner with when creating congress engagements, in a meeting to detail the possibilities,” says Brian Raineri, managing director, TRIO. “This is what first planted the seed for our capabilities to create an immersive booth experience.”

The Escape Room started out as a “Big Idea” in brand planning that was grounded in the brand’s understanding of the customer and its approach to experiential learning, and anchored to the strategy of needing to combat HCPs’ hesitation to shift to long-acting injectables (LAIs), despite growing evidence supporting their clinical benefits. “To give psychiatrists an inside look at the patient’s world, we put them in the room of a patient (based on a real patient story) living in a group home and provided auditory clues from that patient’s perspective,” Raineri says. “The Escape Room was certainly the allurement and the strategic cornerstone of what we were creating and then built a holistic experience off of to ensure choreography of the attendee journey would pay off with our branded LAIs product messaging.”

The Escape Room debuted at APA 2019. In the less than 20 hours the booth was open, it was booked solid as more than 600 people went through the five-minute experience. “It felt like a launch booth,” Raineri says. “Instead of minutes, attendees were hanging out in our booth for hours and coming back, despite the waiting time! At one point, we were told that the other exhibits were empty. Everyone was trying to go through our experience. HCPs were very receptive and we saw a significant increase in time spent with sales reps before and after the experience.”

The key to all this, Raineri believes, is that Escape Room was an educational experience that was rooted in addressing the observation of HCPs’ repeated behavior, but also attempting to evolve that stagnant thinking to see if HCPs can do better for schizophrenia patients. “It was an engaging team experience for HCPs to learn and to raise awareness about the consequences of repeated schizophrenia relapse,” Raineri told Med Ad News. “In order to highlight this, we focused on education and increasing the observational skills of HCPs to help them identify signs that the patient may be acting in such a manner that they may be at risk for a relapse. For example, nonadherence to medication is a sign the patient could be self-treating with alcohol or isolation. While this is an issue that every psychiatric professional is aware of, it could be that they are not necessarily considering the impact of what they are prescribing, or how the repetitious behavior could be impacting the patient.”

Opsumit PAH Experience

The Opsumit PAH Experience, based on the brand’s “Set Free” campaign, showed viewers a pulmonary arterial hypertension patient trapped inside a giant mason jar the size of a mobile home, representing the limitations with which such patients have to deal. The patient was completely isolated, with only cue cards to communicate with those outside. Accompanying interactive kiosks revealed how everyday objects, like a load of laundry, can be a burden to patients with PAH, a condition that leaves people so out of breath that they don’t know if they’ll be able to leave the house. The PAH Experience was developed by the agency Patients & Purpose and deployed at client Actelion Pharmaceuticals’ annual sales conference, where sales reps were invited inside the jar to help build an understanding of what living with PAH can be like.

According to Dina Peck, managing partner and executive creative director of Patients & Purpose, Actelion challenged her agency to generate buzz and make as big an impact as possible at the company’s sales conference. “We took ‘big’ literally,” she says. “The primary goal was to announce Opsumit’s upcoming new patient campaign in the most memorable way. It was also important for the marketing team to help attendees gain a deeper understanding of the patient mindset that would help them in the field.”

The idea of the experiential jar, Peck told Med Ad News, was just an extension of a solid idea brought to life. “That’s what great experiential does – it taps into emotions and educates through the experience. A key patient insight that was uncovered in developing the brand campaign was the fact that PAH patients felt closed off from the life they once knew. PAH can be such a debilitating disease. In research, we heard several patients say they felt like prisoners in their own homes.”

Hence the brand campaign itself. And a real, live jar was just one step beyond the brand campaign. “The big ‘a-ha’ moment was in front of us the whole time during the creation of the brand campaign: how incredible would it be to bring our ‘big jar’ idea to life with an actual installation? We dreamt about the idea, and when opportunity arose, we jumped on it – even if the delivery was a month away.”

That’s right, one month. “With only 30 days to be event-ready – the clock was already ticking,” Peck says. “It required everyone to be ‘all in’ to make the idea come to fruition. In an extremely short timeframe, we spoke with fabricators who could help make it happen. And when problems arose, everyone was available to solve them. Everything from the jar itself to the interactive kiosks to props and event signage were prepared as fast as one could imagine. And that was how the jar was born!”

Of course, building a jar the size of a mobile home is not something that marketers do every day, and so the whole exercise became a bit of a learning experience for all involved. The original idea of a rigid and glass-like clear plastic jar had to be reimagined into a pliable and clear, inflatable material due to fabrication parameters – “You can’t reasonably build a 30-foot jar, and if you could, what would happen if it cracked and broke?” Peck points out. Then, in initial tests, the jar would look too puffy and lose the appearance of a mason jar. In addition, fresh air needed to circulate inside for the actor portraying the PAH patient. Lastly, a double chamber entrance had to be developed for POA attendees to be able to go into and out of the jar without it deflating.

After all that, though, the final result was arresting. “The sales force has responded with great feedback that hit our goals of making an impact and deepening their understanding of the PAH patient experience,” Peck says. “The salespeople told us, ‘You really get a feel for what PAH is like.’”

Why did it work? Because that 30-foot jar, the patient inside it, and the experience it visualized were a spot-on reflection of Opsumit’s mission as a brand. “A brand should make sure that these experiences have a purpose intrinsically inspired by and tied to the brand’s mission. In the case of the PAH Experience, the overarching campaign provided plenty of fodder and room to breathe new life into and impact the experiential category,” Peck says.

Room to Breathe

Developed by Concentric Health Experience with client Sunovion, Room to Breathe was a full-scale home built on the floor of CHEST 2019 that later became a virtual reality platform. Both the real-world and VR experiences brought audiences inside the home of a Lonhala Magnair user, showing how each room of the house reflects the features the COPD product provides – virtually silent administration, quick 2 to 3 minute nebulization time, and convenient audio-visual feedback.

“The idea (for Room to Breathe) was born from a collaborative workshop we held between Concentric, our clients, and creative thinkers from across our network, including one that specializes in experiential events,” says Michael Sanzen, partner and chief creative officer, Concentric Health Experience. “Together, the group brainstormed ways to turn functional product attributes into practical patient benefits. Someone brought up the point that we really needed to bring the doctors into the patients’ homes if we ever wanted them to appreciate how this product’s features profoundly impacted life, and that became the original idea – to have the launch event in a home that we staged to show off the product. From there, our experiential team proposed that it might be more effective if we bring the home to the doctors. Room to Breathe, the physical experience, was then built on the congress floor to help us launch. Later, we filmed the experience to create the VR platform so we could continue rolling the concept out to more and more HCPs.”

The feedback from those HCPs has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, survey results produced a 6.5 average on a 1-7 scale across a variety of questions on experience satisfaction. And the campaign lived on well past the live execution on the convention floor. “During meetings thereafter, a virtual reality version of the experience was offered to customers,” Sanzen says. “In a post experience survey, 93 percent of customers claimed they could think of a patient in their practice who would be appropriate for the product.”

Building a convincing patient’s house, whether in the real world or virtual reality, is no small undertaking. “Physical and virtual experiences have to be done right if you’re looking for real engagement,” Sanzen told Med Ad News. “Details such as how people flow through a physical installation and the film technique to make VR truly immersive can’t be left to chance. This would not have worked if we didn’t have the right partners with the right mindsets. We all just wanted to make something great for our client – that was our focus and that’s why it worked so well.”

Having gone through this home-building exercise, Sanzen advises others interested in creating these sorts of experiences to do their homework, and then do it again – no detail is too small if you want your “room” to be believable – but remember not to overwhelm the viewer either. “Do you research to tell an authentic story,” he says. “When it comes to VR, the level of detail that goes into the execution was a major takeaway from our team. When our team first started mapping out what scenes we wanted to capture, it was important for our team to visualize how the user would be seeing each room within the VR headset. Once our script started to come together, we started to pace out each scene to ensure that the user would stay engaged, but also not overwhelmed with too much happening in each scene. The VR experience is so immersive that we quickly learned to keep the action straightforward and easy to follow so that you can direct where your user should be looking at all times.”