AbbVie put gaming gremlins to work mining people’s ‘fear of finding out’ they’re sick

AbbVie’s Crush Your FOFO quiz assigned players one of four different personas illustrating their own fear of finding out news about their health. (AbbVie)

CANNES, France—Drugmakers spend a lot of time persuading doctors their medications are the ones to choose for their diabetes or heart attack or cancer patients. But what about the people who purposefully avoid becoming patients, even when they have alarming symptoms?

That’s the idea behind AbbVie’s FOFO awareness push: How to help people get over their Fear of Finding Out and turn to a doctor in the first place. Because the "why" behind that fear is where a nudge can be effective, the company teamed up with Aardman to trace the roots of that fear and figure out how to intervene accordingly.

Insights are only as good as the data behind them, and getting people to talk about their fears—particularly fears about their health—was the entire point; a chicken-or-egg situation. And with privacy breaches in the news, the team needed to persuade users to share their data.

“We wanted to gather information, but knew it had to be ‘gaming for good,’” said Gwenan White, U.K. director of communications and patient relations at AbbVie, in an interview at Cannes Lions Health. In other words, the data had to be more than market research.

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The solution turned out to be a quiz embedded in a game that took players through a series of questions about their health and attitudes toward it, with the final data destined for open source use by anyone interested. The audience was 40- to 60-year-olds—those most likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, but at earlier stages. At the end of the game, users found out their flavor of FOFO, personified in one of four different gremlins.

At launch, AbbVie put money into consumer media to drive players to the game. And it worked. After a placement during the popular show “Loose Women,” Twitter lit up with chatter about it.

The company followed up with a focused social media campaign that featured a film, “Fear Box,” that used a mystery white box to show how humans perceive fear (see below). After finding out their FOFO tags, players were encouraged to share their gremlin names on social, too.

Now closed, the game attracted 4,500 users, including one 100-year-old woman, White said, showing that age isn’t necessarily a barrier when it comes to using tech in pharma marketing.

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AbbVie and Aardman are now analyzing the data they gathered in hopes of finding some levers healthcare providers—such as England’s National Health Service—can push to bring patients in for preventive treatment. (One nugget: Women had greater levels of FOFO than men.)

“We thought analysis is key, rather than more data,” White said.

For AbbVie, the bottom line is that medicines are expensive, and the more the NHS can save on treating complications of disease, the more it is available to spend on drugs that can either prevent certain diseases from developing or treat those who are already sick.

“We know there’s not a limitless amount of money available to pay for treatment,” White said. “It’s absolutely key for pharma” to get more involved in supporting the healthcare system.

“We are a key player in the NHS,” she added.

The health system spends $150 million per year on treatments stemming directly from late diagnoses, Aardman’s Heather Wright added.

“Getting people into service earlier saves money,” Wright said in an interview. “And it saves lives.”