Novartis introduces inflammatory villain in its first Xiidra dry eye DTC campaign

Novartis flaming red character for Xiidra dry eye campaign
Novartis' first DTC for dry eye brand Xiidra introduces a flaming animated "inflammation" character. (Novartis)

A red-hot animated menace takes center stage in Xiidra's latest DTC campaign, its first under new brand owner Novartis.

In the debut TV commercial, the inflammation-personified character lurks behind the eyes of a woman working in an office at a computer screen. The as-yet-unnamed creature exclaims as the woman rubs her eyes, “Looks like a great day for achy burning eyes.” 

The Swiss drugmaker snapped up Xiidra from Shire—now owned by Takeda—and the new character is quite a switch from a previous spokesperson, Jennifer Aniston. The actress and film producer led Shire's popular “Eyelove” disease awareness campaign from 2016 through early 2018, speaking about her own dry eye experiences in several TV and print ads, although she did not promote the Xiidra brand directly. Shire used a different DTC campaign theme built around the double "ii" in the brand name.

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The focus of the Novartis-branded Xiidra campaign is on the underlying inflammation that occurs in dry eye. The flame-riddled, irritatating character underscores that message: Even its T-shirt and leather jacket bear the word “inflammation.”

RELATED: Eyelove, the sequel: Aniston reprises her starring role in Shire's dry eye awareness push

Novartis didn’t look back much at the Shire and Aniston work, said Chris Simms, Novartis VP and franchise head of ophthalmics in the U.S.

“Honestly we didn’t spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror. We believe the real opportunity in this market is to create awareness with many patients not understanding that this is a condition that a prescription medicine can provide additional relief for,” he said. “It’s very important that people understand there is an inflammatory component that exists for many patients.”

According to Novartis, about 30 million people in the U.S. have symptoms of dry eye, with more than 16 million diagnosed with some type of dry eye disease. Only 1.7 million are using a prescription product to treat dry eye, the company says.

It’s that treatment gap Novartis is targeting with this new effort. Many of the untreated, as embodied by the actress in the new TV commercial, use or overuse artificial tears to self-treat symptoms.

RELATED: The 'i's have it in new ad campaign for Shire’s dry eye treatment Xiidra

The insights behind the work—regarding inflammation and the overall lack of awareness—came through research with patients and eye care professionals. Novartis and ad agency Arnold, New York, "decided to personify inflammation in the form of an animated character to help illustrate what dry eye disease may feel likean annoying, gritty, and burning sensation within the affected eye," Simms said.

The timing is especially relevant for the campaign, given so many people are working from home, he added, "particularly as pretty much everyone is spending more time in front of a screen or a laptop. We know when that happens the blink rate is reduced and the symptoms of dry eye disease become exacerbated."

The multichannel campaign will run on TV, print, radio, digital and search. It debuted with a virtual campaign launch event with more than 1,000 eyecare professionals on Wednesday evening.

Novartis bought Xiidra for $3.4 billion last year in a deal that brought 400 Takeda staffers, mostly in the U.S. and Canada, over to the Swiss drugmaker. Novartis recently faced a setback with the drug in Europe, and it voluntarily withdrew its application for Xiidra there, at least temporarily.

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