Lilly Oncology’s strategy? Listen to tough talk from patients—and save data for later

Eli Lilly
The Cyramza print ad shown here is part of Eli Lilly Oncology's larger marketing effort to listen and respond to people living with cancer. (Area 23/Eli Lilly)

When Amy Meadows first started working in Lilly Oncology marketing, she attended a conference for metastatic breast cancer patients. The keynote speech focused on data and scientific advances in the field, and after it, attendees broke into smaller discussion groups. As the women in her group began talking, one leaned over to Meadows and confided, “I’m so proud of myself. I think I understood about 30% of what he said.”

Meadows was taken aback; the audience shouldn’t have  to work to figure out what the speaker meant. “They shouldn’t have to go home and Google it to try to understand it,” Meadows remembers saying to herself. And that early lesson has served as a touchpoint for her team’s work at Lilly Oncology, where she’s head of consumer marketing in the U.S.

“Data is important, too—it’s a balancing act of communicating what’s relevant and what’s most important for people going along this journey,” she said in an interview at Cannes Lions Health. “But starting the conversation with a person, a human being who has been diagnosed with cancer, using data? We want to acknowledge what they’re going through and meeting them with data is not acknowledging what they’re going through.”

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Lilly now has three next-generation oncology drugs on the market—Cyramza for lung, stomach and colorectal cancers; Lartruvo for soft tissue sarcoma; and Verzenio for metastatic breast cancer. All three treatments are supported with marketing campaigns that range from digitally targeted messages to mainstream TV ads. The thread in common is the goal of Lilly Oncology and Meadows, along with its ad agency Area 23, to tell patient stories in creative ways that eschew positive platitudes for real and sometimes uncomfortable communications.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to empower the voices and stories of people living with cancer as we humanize the way we communicate,” Meadows said in a follow-up email. “We point our compass toward real, core human insights and reflect that in our marketing—whether that’s for consumers or healthcare providers.”

Cyramza’s campaign, for instance, running primarily on digital channels with some print, focuses on the everyday moments advanced cancer patients told Lilly they cherish: time with children and grandchildren, quiet moments with a spouse or simply the warmth of the sun on their skin, Meadows said.

With Lartruvo, the creative began much differently. It was built on the grit and determination of patient with rare soft tissue sarcomas. Only 12,000-13,000 are diagnosed each year. During market research, one patient in particular helped shape the campaign: What she needed to hear, she said, was that dealing with the disease is hard, but she had to stick with it. Lying in bed, scared, is a waste of time. From that patient and others like her, the Lartruvo theme “Get Up” was born.

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That digital and patient education-focused campaign—which encourages patients to do the hard work of getting up every day—has been well-received by the STS community and advocacy organizations, Meadows noted.

The Lartruvo team is also working to take the "Get Up" creativity off the traditional marketing grid. At Cannes Lions Health, Lilly and Area 23 showed a prototype of a custom alarm clock they built for STS patients, pre-programmed by loved ones to project personal photos and messages onto the ceiling to inspire patients to “get up” out of bed.

Verzenio, Lilly’s new metastatic breast cancer treatment, probably has the most visible campaign because it includes TV advertising. But at the core, it’s like the other work in its focus on patients. The “Relentless” campaign, created by ad agency Grey, centers on women with MBC and their persistent optimism, strength, independence and drive to stay informed.

“We want to pull this work down to a human level. We want to power these voices. I know I say it all the time, but I mean it,” Meadows said. “This is where we have to push creativity to really meet the needs of people living with cancer. It’s the story of others that will take us forward. If we listen, people will tell us what they need.”