Exact Sciences enlists Katie Couric for new commercial to promote Cologuard, colorectal cancer screening

It’s been 22 years since Katie Couric famously got a colonoscopy live on the "Today" show, sparking a surge in colon cancer screenings doctors nicknamed “the Katie Couric effect.” 

Now, she's trying to reach a new generation in a new TV ad for at-home screening test Cologuard, and its maker Exact Sciences is undoubtedly hoping she'll give the brand a similar boost. 

Couric, whose first husband Jay Monahan died of colon cancer in 1998, is the face of Exact Sciences’ new “Mission to Screen” campaign that launched this week for Colon Cancer Awareness Month. The branded campaign includes a national TV commercial showing Couric cooking dinner with her 30-year-old daughter Ellie and talking about why people screen for colon cancer.

In a voiceover, the former "Today" show host says she started screening because of her late husband, who was just 42 when he died.

“I wish he could have seen our daughter Ellie get married, on the best day of her life,” she says. “But colon cancer took him from us, like it’s taken so many others. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to talk about getting screened.”

The video then shows other people sharing why they screen: a woman for her pregnant daughter and growing family; a dad for his young girls; a mother for her teenage son. 

Couric goes on to remind people 45 and older that it’s “time to screen,” and that now there are “more options than ever before,” including Cologuard, as the camera shows the kit’s recognizable blue and white box sitting on a doorstep. 

The ad directs the viewer to the campaign website, where they’ll find two more videos starring Couric as well as interviews with doctors and patients and additional information about Cologuard. The campaign also includes a social media initiative encouraging people to share their reasons to screen.

Exact Sciences first started working with Couric’s company, Katie Couric Media, over a year ago because of their shared interest in raising colon cancer awareness and getting more people screened, Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy said in an email. He said Couric and her team were “highly influential” in developing the campaign, as evidenced by its emphasis on personal experiences. 

“The campaign underscores the fact that time is precious,” Conroy said. “We lose too many people too soon due to colon cancer that may have been treatable if detected earlier.”

The campaign comes as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force last May lowered the recommended colorectal cancer screening age from 50 to 45. The change makes an additional 45 million Americans eligible for screening—and opens up a bigger potential market for Cologuard. 

Getting the screening message out to younger people is important, because colon cancer is rising among 45- to 49-year olds. But the campaign is targeting everyone of screening age, Conroy said, especially the 46 million Americans who remain unscreened.

Approved in 2014, Cologuard works by detecting altered DNA or blood in stools and has been shown to find 92% of cancers. Doctors consider colonoscopy the gold standard but tout stool DNA tests as an acceptable alternative for people at average risk who are hesitant to get the more invasive procedure.

Exact Sciences is moving toward FDA approval of a Cologuard 2.0 test; however, that aims to improve its accuracy and its detection of precancerous polyps. Results of a pivotal trial evaluating the updated version are expected in late 2022 or early 2023.