Bayer turns America’s 'Smiths' into aspirin-carrying heart attack heroes

Monica Smith is one of the Fort Smith, Arkansas, Smiths taking part in Bayer's effort to arm everyone with aspirin to potentially help someone having a heart attack. Image: Bayer

Every Smith in Fort Smith, Arkansas, is ready to be a hero. The Smiths are part of Bayer Aspirin's new marketing effort to encourage people to carry aspirin in case they or someone nearby has a heart attack. Why? Because chewing an aspirin after calling 911 has been shown to increase the chance of surviving.

But not everyone knows that. Or the fact that heart attacks still occur every 42 seconds in the U.S.

To get the word out for heart month, Bayer and its ad agency Energy BBDO came up with the idea of recruiting a large group of people to pledge to carry aspirin. They decided on people with the last name Smith because it's the most common surname in America, belonging to more than 2.4 million people. Next, they chose Fort Smith as their target location, not only for the name connection, but also because it has one of the highest heart attack rates in the country.

Bayer and BBDO went to Fort Smith and filmed some of the 1,800 Smiths there for an online mini-documentary film, “The HeroSmiths,” which features local Smiths. Some are survivors who were saved by aspirin during a heart attack, some are survivors' loved ones, and others are everyday heroes-in-waiting who just want to be ready to help. The film can be viewed on Bayer's Facebook page and the dedicated TheHeroSmiths.com website.

“We’re telling the story of the Smiths on Facebook in order to reach a larger population and to direct people to TheHeroSmiths.com to take the pledge. So it’s not just about Smiths—we really want everyone to be a common hero,” Laurie Hekmat, Bayer Consumer Health U.S. marketing director for Bayer Aspirin and Midol, said in an interview.

As part of the effort, Bayer also donated $25,000 to Fort Smith’s local American Heart Association and gave out HeroSmith kits with educational information, a Bayer Aspirin keychain, and a coupon for $2 off Bayer Aspirin. But anyone in the country can get their own keychain and coupon by taking the pledge on Bayer's website.

Bayer may expand the campaign in the future, but Hekmat said the company wants to first gauge the effectiveness and consumer response. So far, though it's early, feedback has been positive—especially among Bayer employees, who previewed the campaign last week at Bayer's New Jersey offices.

Bayer Aspirin remains the company's most well-known brand, as well as one of the German drugmaker's best-selling OTC products. The brand racked up sales of $520 million in 2015 and holds a 62% market share of aspirin sales in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Bayer's consumer health unit hasn't grown quite the way the company planned when agreed in 2014 to shell out $14.2 billion on Merck's OTC business—and now, with the company currently in the midst of a merger with agrichemical giant Monsanto, some analysts expect to see the company's healthcare division put on the back burner.