Boehringer's 'Breathless Ballad' sees 'American Idol' winner Sparks lend lyrical lift to lung disease campaign

German pharma Boehringer Ingelheim is well known for its innovative marketing strategies, and it’s at it once again, hitting a high note with its new "Breathless Ballad" campaign.

The Breathless Ballad Challenge is part of its broader "Breathless" campaign program, originally developed with the goal of raising awareness for interstitial lung diseases (ILDs), particularly idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and systemic sclerosis-associated interstitial lung disease (SSc-ILD), conditions for which it markets the drug Ofev.

Back in 2017, Boehringer partnered with Yankees legend and Latin Grammy-nominee Bernie Williams, who lost his father to IPF in 2001 and became involved in Breathless as a way to honor his father’s legacy.

Now, Williams and multiplatinum recording artist Jordin Sparks have debuted a new song, "Breath of Life (Para Don Berna)," with lyrics written by the winner of the Breathless Ballad Challenge.

“The idea for the Ballad Challenge really came from our work with Bernie, who is not only a baseball legend but also an accomplished musician,” said Al Masucci, vice president of Boehringer’s pharma unit.

“Bernie’s instrumental track ‘Para Don Berna’—which was written in honor of his father—has been heavily featured as part of his work with the Breathless campaign, and we wanted to leverage that song and the sentiment behind it to engage people in a public campaign to raise awareness about IPF.”

Championed by Williams, the Breathless Ballad Challenge launched as a lyric writing competition to raise awareness of IPF and called on the public to write lyrics in honor of a hero in their own life. The winning lyrics were written by David DePinho of New Jersey, and were chosen by a panel of celebrity judges.

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Masucci says that as IPF is a rare and less known disease, many people can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for a long time because the symptoms of IPF are similar to other diseases. But since IPF follows a progressive course, leading to an irreversible decline in lung function, “time and awareness are of the essence.”

But why turn to music to help boost awareness? “Being able to partner with celebrities like Bernie and Jordin for the Breathless Ballad Challenge allows us to engage audiences we otherwise might not reach so that we can provide education about IPF, its symptoms and treatment options,” he explained.

And that could already be a big audience: “We were fortunate to be able to debut the Breathless Ballad Challenge music video on a national morning show in December, which allowed us to reach millions of viewers with information about IPF—many of whom may not otherwise have heard of this disease.”

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As part of the music video, Boehringer has also directed viewers to the Lungs&You website, which offers patient education that further explores what IPF is and how it presents. Measuring numbers going to this site will be a handy metric, too.

The emotional connection was important for the company as well. “The emotional burden that people with IPF and their loved ones deal with after a diagnosis is immense, and we recognized early in the planning stages for this campaign that in order to truly connect with people, we needed to offer them a platform to share their personal experiences,” Masucci said.

“The fact that we had more than 70 people submit lyrics that they had written about a hero in their own life speaks volumes about how connected people felt to this cause and to Bernie, who has been so open about his family’s experience with IPF.”

Ofev has a long and illustrious marketing history, taking in 2019 our #FierceMadness ad championship with the winning platform built around the story of a boxer and his father who has IPF.

Like its Ballad campaign, this too leaned deeply into emotional strength and was praised for its ability to connect to the patient journey.

Boehringer currently sells Ofev in the U.S. to treat pulmonary fibrosis and SSc-ILD, and last year it nabbed a new license to treat patients with range of chronic fibrosing ILDs with a progressive phenotype. It’s one of the company’s biggest-selling drugs, bringing in more than $2.3 billion last year.