Crohn's and colitis group encourages patients to 'Spill Your Guts' to ditch stigma in pharma-backed campaign

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation is fielding a new campaign backed by sponsors Johnson & Johnson, Takeda and Bristol Myers Squibb. (Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation)

The challenge of diagnosing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is not just the diseases themselves, but also the stigma and embarrassment that often keeps people from discussing symptoms—even with their doctors.

Thanks to sponsors Johnson & Johnson, Takeda and Bristol Myers Squibb, the new “Spill Your Guts” campaign from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation hopes to erase that stigma. Ad agency FCB Health donated its creative services for the work.

“We needed to create a campaign that inspired people who have symptoms to speak up," foundation CEO Michael Osso said. "We had to develop a familiarity with the symptoms so that people could understand that this is possibly what's going on for them."

The campaign goal? Help people who are experiencing symptoms get proper care and ultimately reach a specialist as quickly as possible. Past studies have shown that while 59% of Crohn's patients saw three or more healthcare providers before their diagnosis, almost half (44%) had 10 or more office visits beforehand.

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Four different TV ads comprise three 30-second commercials and one 60-second ad. Each of the three shorter spots features a different person dealing with the the problems that come with undiagnosed inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Think pain, discomfort and a constant search for lavatory locations.

The longer ad combines all three. The ads all use stock footage and direct the viewer to the foundation's landing page, which then leads visitors to either a diagnosed or undiagnosed path.

The ads have aired about 6,000 times over the past three to four months, Osso said, and so far have reached some 15 million viewers.

The foundation plans to expand the campaign with radio versions of the TV ads and with at least one new radio spot to complement the TV.

A social media element lets people design a personalize IBD graphic to share using a custom "infographic generator." More than 600 people have used the tool, Osso said, adding that he wasn't surprised the project has gone over so well, thanks in part to extensive pre-launch research and testing.

Related: An MS drug for ulcerative colitis? Bristol Myers steps in FDA fast lane to know the fate of Zeposia

More plans are in the works to add Spanish-language versions of the ads as well as spots focusing on pediatric patients and older Americans. A second phase will focus more on diagnosed patients.

While the charity has launched public service announcements in the past, the last one was in 2013 and was geared more toward general awareness, Osso said. This is the first time the foundation has reached out for support from the pharma community. 

All of the pharma sponsors have at least one treatment approved or in trials for Crohn’s or colitis.

Takeda's Entyvio, approved to treat IBD, is the drugmaker's top seller. For its fiscal year ended in March, Entyvio notched sales of JPY 347 billion ($3.24 billion), an increase of 29% year over year.

Johnson & Johnson's IL-12/23 antibody Stelara saw sales jump by 30% in 2020. Meanwhile, Bristol Myers' multiple sclerosis drug Zeposia is under FDA review for ulcerative colitis; a decision is expected by the end of this month.