Lilly highlights 'relentless' women in first ads for breast cancer med Verzenio

The Lilly Oncology team and its ad agency Grey met with more than 300 women living with metastatic breast cancer in an effort to represent their voices authentically and responsibly. (Eli Lilly)

Eli Lilly’s first oncology campaign launched last week, putting the Indianapolis drugmaker on a growing list of pharma companies running DTC ads for cancer drugs. Lilly Oncology’s initial effort is for Verzenio, which was approved last year to treat metastatic breast cancer.

The debut TV ad, “Relentless,” features women and their families enjoying spending time together at a dance recital, playing with grandchildren and baking with a daughter. The overarching theme is that although metastatic breast cancer is relentless, so are the women who have it. The TV spot officially premiered during the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night.

RELATED: Latecomer Verzenio stands out from Ibrance, Kisqali in launch's early days: Lilly

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To create the ad, the Lilly Oncology team, along with its ad agency Grey, met with more than 300 women living with metastatic breast cancer in an effort to represent their voices as authentically and responsibly as possible, Amy White Meadows, senior advisor, consumer marketing at Lilly Oncology, said.

“The thing we were really taken aback by was their relentless spirit—their optimism, how strong they are, how independent they are and how informed they are,” added Tom Nowlin, advisor, consumer marketing at Lilly, who also worked on the team. “… Some of the things they shared with us were not only that MBC is relentless, and they worry about their disease progressing and how serious that is, but that they themselves are relentless and don’t take a day off either. So they match that relentlessness of their disease with how they treat it.”

The production and marketing teams were made up predominantly of women and led by prominent female director Lisa Gunning because, as Meadows pointed out, “who can best depict this voice than through the eyes of another woman?” Gunning has also directed and edited ads for Nike, Procter & Gamble and Adidas.

RELATED: Eli Lilly nabs another breast cancer approval for third-to-the-party Verzenio

In an unusual twist, of the three women who appear in the TV ads, one actually has metastatic breast cancer, although no one on the team knew that until after she was cast. Her story, along with those of some of the other patients, will appear in a behind-the-scenes video on the branded Verzenio website. The campaign will run on social and digital and in print as well as TV.

Verzenio's competitors in the category include Pfizer’s Ibrance, which has been running a DTC campaign including TV ads since last May, and Novartis' Kisquali, which is running DTC on social media but hasn't yet moved to TV. Ibrance sales lead the class, thanks in part to its 2015 head start that came more than two years before its rivals' approvals.