Remember your teenage skin woes? Almirall’s Aqua unit takes dermatologists back with virtual reality tool

Almirall's Aqua Pharmaceuticals uses virtual reality to remind dermatologists what teenagers with skin conditions often experience.

Acne and skin problems were no fun in high school, and Aqua Pharmaceuticals wants to remind healthcare providers just how that felt. How? With a virtual reality trip back to teenage land.

The dermatology-focused drugmaker screened its immersive video, created along with its agency The Marketing Arm, last week at the American Academy of Dermatology conference, handing out Google Cardboard viewers and download codes for skincare professionals to take back to their practices.

The effort is Aqua’s first move into advertising, a departure from its historically sales-centric approach.

“One of the great things about virtual reality is by placing you in the middle with a 360-degree view, it evokes a lot of emotion and brings people inside the experience as opposed to passively watching. That’s why we’re using it to reinforce how people feel when they have visibly compromised skin,” said Jim Demaioribus, VP of marketing at Aqua.

The campaign gives doctors an unbranded educational tool for use as they choose, and it aims to reinforce the role empathy plays in dermatologists' daily practice. But it's not entirely Aqua-free. The effort also reminds providers about Aqua’s commitment to dermatology, Demaioribus said.

Initial feedback from dermatologists has been positive, he said, and Aqua is now evaluating how to use the virtual reality video going forward. Aqua has prescription treatments in four therapeutic categories: acne, steroid-responsive dermatoses, actinic keratoses, and seborrheic dermatitis.

Almirall acquired Aqua in 2013 and refocused its business on dermatology in 2014. Last year, Almirall ran a disease awareness campaign, the “Shared Skin” initiative, on digital platforms featuring five Almirall employees made up with various skin conditions to show the emotional impact of dermatological diseases. Almirall’s dermatology sales grew 32% in 2016, the company recently reported, with that focus now accounting for 51% of its total net sales, versus 43% in 2015.