Astellas presents The Bladder, animated pitch-organ for overactive-bladder med Myrbetriq

We're accustomed to animated characters in our drug advertising. That cheerful, buzzing Nasonex bee. The gently fluttering Lunesta moth. The droopy, sad little blob that so needs Zoloft. But a perky ... bladder?

Watch the Myrbetriq ad

Yes, a bladder. Astellas has rolled out a new direct-to-consumer ad campaign for its overactive bladder drug Myrbetriq (mirabegron) featuring a friendly-yet-persistent bladder that repeatedly drags a middle-aged woman toward a bathroom. The hope is that the campaign's light humor will make women comfortable with discussing symptoms with their doctors.

So far, the target audience--women 45 to 69 with symptoms of overactive bladder--has been receptive to the character, Astellas VP of U.S. Marketing Walt Johnston told FiercePharmaMarketing. "It relates to how they feel like their bladder has control over their bodies," Johnston said. "We felt that the bladder would help women start that conversation with the doctor and not be embarrassed by it."

Approved by the FDA in 2012, Myrbetriq followed Astellas' leading OAB drug, Vesicare (solifenacin succinate), onto the market. Vesicare goes off patent in 2018, however, so the Japanese drugmaker hopes to build up Myrbetriq to keep its urology franchise humming.

The two drugs attack the problem differently; Vesicare is an anticholinergic, while Myrbetriq is a beta-3 agonist, a first-in-class treatment. In the overactive bladder market, the two drugs compete with Pfizer's ($PFE) Detrol and Merck's ($MRK) Oxytrol For Women. And it's a growing market, with baby boomers aging; when Myrbetriq was first approved, Astellas said it hoped to build its urology business to $1.9 billion in sales.

Spearheaded by agency-of-record Roska Healthcare, the Myrbetriq campaign launched March 11, and Johnston expects it to continue through most of this year. The commercial is airing on cable and network television, as well as online, including social media channels. "Wherever patients are going to gather for information about overactive bladder, we can be in that space," Johnston said.

On the sales side, Astellas has about 700 reps working with urologists, OB/Gyns and primary care doctors, focusing on both overactive-bladder products. "Early uptake has been very positive," Johnston said of the Myrbetriq effort. "We'll make adjustments on the campaign and platforms based on feedback from the marketplace."

The Myrbetriq push is part of a broader effort by Astellas to raise awareness of overactive bladder and other women's health issues. The company has teamed up with patient groups and other organizations, including Red Hot Mamas, a menopause education program, and Blue Thong Society, a networking group for women. Among its other campaigns is a golf sponsorship, PGA Tour Woman, that includes events at tournaments and community efforts. The website, TeeUpTheConversation.com, is a clue-in to the desired outcome: Women, talk with your doctors.

Special Reports: Top 10 DTC pharma advertisers | Top 10 pharma advertising budgets of 2012

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story should have mentioned a droopy blob that reps Zoloft, not a droopy stick figure that reps Abilify. The article was also revised to note that Vesicare's patent expires in 2018 rather than 2015.

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