Med Ad News talked to the management team of LevLane about the process of building best brands, key factors in producing a successful brand launch, navigating the launch of new products and campaigns with clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other topics.

By Andrew Humphreys • [email protected]


Med Ad News: For those not familiar with your business, what is LevLane?

LevLane: If there was ever a year where “brand engagement and understanding” were more important, it was 2020. Brands that connected with their customers faired the best in these difficult times. That’s where we have been ahead of the curve before it was fashionable because we have been focused on more than building brand understanding for the past 37 years. 

From day one LevLane has been all about building brand LOVE – so all stakeholders understand the uniqueness of your brand and love it – a love that lasts through transformational times like we experienced in 2020. And that’s why we continue to ask every new life sciences client the burning question: “Who Loves Ya’?” 

We are driving innovation in life sciences through our approach to the healthcare consumer journey and healthcare professional engagement. And we don’t think about consumers as patients, we think about them as people with individual perspectives and challenges. 

That requires a healthy mix of consumer, healthcare, payer, pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device experience. This combination results in our innovative human-to-human experiences for all stakeholders – experiences relevant across emerging channels. 

This model is uniquely LevLane. It combines intellect, talent, and vision for our clients. Working together, we can and do create new opportunities to benefit health, life, and the bottom line. 

Put simply, we create brand love and understanding – it is more than our core strategy – it is our North Star.

Med Ad News: LevLane says the best brands are built from the inside out and are rooted in brand truths. How do you find brand truths in your clients? 

LevLane: There is a lot of suspect vocabulary in advertising, and we are loathe to add to it, so let’s break down “brand truths” to be clear about what we mean. 

We mean “that which is true about a particular brand, unique to it, perhaps even uncommon.” In much the same way that the truth of you is not so much that you have brown eyes or are left-handed or part your hair on the right – though these may all in fact be true. The truth of you is that you are compassionate even to strangers, or that you have a wicked wit, or that you are obsessed with mid-century furniture. Things that I cannot learn just by looking at you, but that I must spend time with you to determine, that can differentiate you from someone else who also has brown eyes, is left-handed and parts their hair on the right. Things that are in the inside. That will be more meaningful to me because they are more meaningful about you. Things that I can build a relationship with. 

That’s what we look for in the brands we work on. And while, as you would imagine, it’s difficult, the nice thing is, so few agencies do it, that our work tends to be successful just in comparison. That said, this approach also requires a unique client who believes those things are important, who understands the impact they can have, and is willing to work with us to find them. Our strategic model employs a creative boldness to tell the consumer how the brand feels about them and the issues at hand. The deeper the connection the stronger the ability to not only know of the brand (awareness) but to genuinely understand the brand and how it connects with their lives. 

We create brand love and understanding – it is our core strategy. Even to the point that our Agency tagline has become, Who Loves Ya? We live our strategic innovation on a daily basis at LevLane. 

Med Ad News: What are key factors in producing a successful brand launch? 

LevLane: Simple. There are four key factors: Focus, Precision, Creativity, and Patience.

Not surprisingly, these are useful for any marketing endeavor. But for a launch, you need them on steroids. As it were.

Know who you are talking to. Really know them. Don’t try to talk to everyone, despite everyone telling you that you need massive sales. “Talk to everyone and you communicate with no one” does not work.

Understand what your customer’s needs are and how you uniquely meet it. Note – not ALL their needs. And not ALL the things you do. What they need, how you do it, in a way that others can’t.

Focus on them. Not you. Them. This goes for the messaging but also for the way you deliver that message. Howard Gossage said, “People pay attention to what interests them; sometimes it’s an ad.” Make your launch one of those things.

Rinse, repeat. Don’t panic when stuff isn’t flying off the shelves the day you launch. Be bold and be insights driven. Don’t be afraid, but don’t be foolish. Let the data lead you to insights and let your gut instincts take it from there. Provide reasons to love the brand, reasons to understand how it impacts the consumer on a personal level, not reasons to believe a brand promise. And, monitor results; yes, tweak messaging, media, everything, as necessary. But people are busy and nobody is sitting around waiting for your product to show up. Remember, NBC executives were going to cancel “Seinfeld” after two episodes because no one was watching. These things take time. Let them.

Med Ad News: What were challenges in launching Agile Therapeutics’ Twirla (levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol) transdermal system as the first NDA hormonal contraceptive birth control patch in decades? 

LevLane: When you’re working with an innovative forward-thinking women’s healthcare company that is launching an innovative product, you need to be just as innovative as they are in your thinking.

Agile aligned with LevLane well before their new product, Twirla, was approved by the FDA in February 2020, which was great, because it allowed us to work together as real business solution partners as the product made its way through a prolonged FDA approval process. 

But that extra time allowed us to do more research to develop better insights and really hone the messaging. And that research made it increasingly clear that many women weren’t even aware that a hormonal birth control patch was an option for them. In their minds, the category began and ended with the pill, and occasionally with IUDs and rings.

And yet women felt both of those options had important shortcomings – which gave Twirla an opportunity to tell its story. Women didn’t like the stress of having to remember to take a pill the same time every day, and they also didn’t like the invasive and painful aspects of an IUD. 

That allowed us to legitimately talk about Twirla not as just “one more option”, but as a solution that better fit their lives.

Med Ad News: How has the “Fits My Life” campaign connected across all consumer personas to distinguish Twirla in the crowded birth control marketplace? 

LevLane: When you’re launching a brand in a crowded category like birth control, you have to be smart about every decision you make – and for us, that meant being highly research-driven to create a campaign that we knew would resonate with women across a variety of ages and life stages. 

Through our research, we learned that women are busier than ever, juggling jobs, school, motherhood and relationships – and that for many, stopping to take a pill at the same time every day is a burden. This insight gave us a jumping off point to create a brand that looks and feels fresh and uplifting with its bright colors and illustrated personas. It also helped us create a messaging platform that talks to women in an authentic voice about a birth control that was designed to fit their life. 

“LevLane created the illustrated “Fits My Life” campaign to connect Twirla with potential patients by leveraging insight-driven personas to help the brand uniquely stand out in the crowded contraception marketplace,” said Amy Welsh, VP, Marketing, Agile Therapeutics. 

Our model provides Twirla with a team approach that we believe is unique in the space – subject matter experts with deep pharmaceutical advertising experience serving as a delivery hub within an agency known for its brand-driven work for local and national consumer brands. Our team orchestrated everything from the logo and packaging design to the consumer and HCP research through the digital-first launch of banners, websites, CRM and point of care videos. 

Through it all, we stay connected to the women who we believe will benefit from using Twirla. They span from Gen Z to Gen Y, live all over the country, and come from different ethnic backgrounds. Some are mothers, some are career-focused, and others are students. All are united around a common goal of finding a birth control that fits their life, without compromise. 

Med Ad News: How did LevLane help promote BioReference Laboratories’ PCR antibody and rapid COVID-19 tests? 

LevLane: LevLane was called to the charge to partner with BioReference Laboratories, Inc., an OPKO Health company, when COVID-19 arose. A full-service specialty laboratory company found itself in a unique position to help the public. That effort began with a national public relations and media outreach effort put in place to build trust. LevLane helped navigate this aggressive national PR campaign geared at providing the general public with accurate, understandable information about COVID-19 and the testing process to help assuage some of the pervading fear and anxiety gripping the country. The campaign was wildly successful with spokesperson Dr. Jon Cohen, executive chairman, appearing on MSNBC, CNBC, and Dr. Oz, in some cases multiple times, as well as features in all major publications, often more than once. In 8 weeks, BioReference had over 60 major media hits. 

Simultaneously, BioReference developed one of the first COVID-19 tests and opened pop-up locations across the country for antibody testing. So, my•labology, the DTC diagnostic business unit of BioReference Laboratories, became the face and marketing communications source that drove awareness about the tests and directed people to the testing sites. LevLane drove the development and distribution of printed and digital assets, providing clear, accurate information about COVID-19 for all audiences, both internal and external. The agency worked with BioReference executive management and supporting team to build upon this model as well as employer-based testing programs giving the business community the information they need to make the right decisions for their organizations. 

“The country’s fear was real. Our company needed a PR campaign and marketing communications aimed to provide data-driven, factual information about COVID-19 and the availability of tests,” said Natalie Cummins, senior VP and chief commercial officer, BioReference Laboratories. “LevLane was more than our partner to boost name recognition; they worked with us to provide a service to the public, giving clarity in a time of ambiguity and confusion.” 

Med Ad News: How did LevLane and its clients pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic to help the agency produce successful launches and campaigns? 

LevLane: Proactive decision-making. LevLane got ahead of the curve as the COVID-19 pandemic was growing back in January/February 2020. Right then, we moved quickly to prepare for all of our folks to work virtually in early March 2020 and got 100 percent of our Agency resources fully “certified” working in the TEAMS environment. We had tutorial working sessions and reference documents prepared in advance of the working environment change. By the time we moved to a virtual environment, we were prepared for all internal and external communications using TEAMS. We enabled our Clients and other partners to communicate with us through the TEAMS environment. Our IT folks were instrumentally involved and worked seamlessly throughout the process. While not perfect, we have not missed a beat … internal staff meetings occur, deliverable dates are met, creative campaigns are presented, new business happens, staff town halls occur, and client folks are engaged with us!!! We mobilized in advance and followed through to allow our folks to continue to build on our who loves ya proposition. We are now in the next stage of internal discussions of how and when to bring our folks back home!! 

Med Ad News: Going back through the years, which product launch(es) in the healthcare industry would you have liked to have worked on/watched come together from behind the scenes? 

LevLane: How poignant. In 1986, our government launched its first series of national PSA health TV spots designed to raise awareness of the emerging threats of HIV and AIDS. Actors such as John Hurt, Meryl Streep, Elizabeth McGovern, Robert DeNiro, and Ahmad Rashad were in the forefront to challenge beliefs held by many Americans and encouraged viewers to seek out the facts relating to these killer diseases. These spots were developed by J. Walter Thompson and placed by the Ad Council with network-level and local television affiliates. Emphasis was placed on the world’s leading scientists beliefs that these “mysterious viruses” had an “explosive infection” rate and projections suggested millions people could be infected and die within a few years. Pay it forward to 2021… how all too familiar this now sounds compared to the COVID-19 pandemic the world is living through. What an experience it would have been to be surrounded with breakthrough science, real-time facts, believable heroes, and the sincere messaging. Oh, and hanging with DeNiro, what could be better.

Med Ad News: As we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, what may the future hold for LevLane and the healthcare industry?

LevLane: Oh, who needs the past. One thing we have learned from COVID-19 is we have to prepare for the “next normal” and work in environments and settings that allow for market disruption at an increasing rapid pace and unexpected events. So, let’s talk the future. 

The future is changing so rapidly and evolving so thoroughly, it’s hard not to want to focus on that. Like for example, how deeply the relationship between people and their healthcare professionals – and the whole medical profession – is changing. It’s hard even to know what to call them – they’re not just “patients”, not just calling doctors when they’re sick or worried. And with all the choices they have now, they’re acting more like traditional “customers” or “consumers” … taking control of their health more than over. I mean, when the actual vocabulary is changing, you know something seismic is going on is.

But we find it all terribly exciting. Really. Confusing? Yes. Complicated? Definitely. But absolutely exciting. Not only because it means we have to keep thinking, keep innovating, and keep questioning ourselves and our clients. It allows us to blend our knowledge of consumer marketing with our knowledge of health and wellness marketing to create fundamentally a whole new category of advertising. A category we’re seeing applied to AI, molecular, therapeutic, diagnostics, devices, institutional, information technology, and in the rapidly evolving cannabis segment. Let’s get back to the future!