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Humira Improved

A very interesting DTC television ad, from AbbVie’s Humira, focuses on current users of their injectable pen. Humira users have sometimes complained about the pain as they inject, described as burning pain. Humira announced a reformulation which removed the citrate ingredient which was causing the pain. Is this a major improvement? Citrate was used as a buffer to keep the active ingredients stable. A new buffer was found that reduced pain.

I went on YouTube to see what patients said about the new formula because I was unfamiliar with the pain problem after injection. Humira has numerous indications for Crohn’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, and other categories. It is touching to see patients crying with joy as they demonstrate the pain free injection after many years of dreading the pain. Obviously having a pain free experience will help with retention and compliance. The testimonials on YouTube were compelling. One involved a young pregnant woman who demonstrated her first citrate free injection. She said for years she feared the searing pain which she had to endure every two weeks. She injected the new version, counted to ten, and then cried because she felt no pain.

The DTC ad announces to current users that Humira was inspired by its users and eliminated the citrate from the formula as well as cutting the volume of liquid in half. Both removing the citrate and injecting less results in less pain. They also are using a thinner needle also a benefit in reducing pain. Clearly, AbbVie heard numerous complaints over the years about pain and responded. With any drug, reformulating is a complex process with numerous regulatory hurdles.

The DTC campaign, introduced in April in a 60-second ad, is a well-executed announcement ad. Basically, it says Humira listened and changed the formula to reduce pain without reducing efficacy. Given the pain problem, the DTC ad had a very receptive audience. Announcing a citrate-free version was sure to get user attention. Humira wanted to reassure customers that there were several steps taken to improve the drug, but they could still count on Humira to focus on treating their disease.

The creative was similar to many DTC ads. The vignettes showed active people dancing, skating, camping, and being with their families. What was most important regarding the reformulation was communicated using voice over and supers. It was important to raise awareness for the new formulation because a new prescription is required, so patient and physician action was needed to switch over. The announcement portion was about 25 seconds and the next 22 seconds was fair balance. The final 13 seconds reinforced the benefits and mentioned patient assistance programs.

Based on what I saw on YouTube, use of patient testimonials would be compelling DTC should Humira want to extend the campaign. Humira has spent, according to MediaRadar, about $60 million on this campaign to date. New and improved is not common in drug advertising because few drugs can afford to tinker with their drug both in development time and money. Here, a major improvement was undertaken that changed the lives of many patients.

Bob Ehrlich,
DTC Perspectives, Inc.

Bob Ehrlich
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at DTC Perspectives
Bob Ehrlich has over 20 years marketing experience in pharmaceutical and consumer products. Bob is the CEO of DTC Perspectives, Inc., a DTC services company founded in 2000. DTC Perspectives, Inc. developed the DTC National Conference, the largest DTC conference in the industry. DTC Perspectives, Inc. also publishes DTC Perspectives, a quarterly journal dedicated to DTC issues and practices. In addition DTC Perspectives, Inc. does DTC consulting for established and emerging companies, and provides DTC marketing plans for pharmaceutical companies.
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