Roche aims its first Ocrevus commercials at millennials, encouraging them to take charge

Genentech has launched its first consumer campaign for multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, with emphasis on a particular cohort of patients: millennials.

The TV ad, which features more than 10 patients, centers on a “Dear MS” theme, with patients telling the disease it doesn’t get to control their whole lives. Patients also hold up two fingers to emphasis the twice-yearly infusion delivery of Ocrevus.

The drug's website features “Dear MS” letters from some of those same patients and several others. They tell MS about the devastating effects it’s had on their lives, but also that they are taking charge and won’t let MS run them or ruin them.

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“Millennials are looking for authentic brands that can connect with them and their experience. Their experience where MS strikes in the prime of their life is quite different from the older patient population. Really what they wanted was to be empowered and to take more control of their MS. So we really focused in on developing a campaign to help them advocate for themselves and what matters to them,” Karen Massey, vice president of marketing for MS at Genentech, said.

The decision to focus on millennials came from research Genentech did a year after Ocrevus’ launch. While the drug was successful—grabbing No. 1 market share and 130,000 patients on treatment—Genentech wanted to know if there were still unmet needs. It found several, but one of the biggest was that millennial patients between the ages of 22 and 39 were often being treated with “medicines developed 30 years ago while the newer, disease-modifying therapies were being saved for later,” Massey said.

Since there was no medical reason for the delay, Genentech decided to go straight to the millennial patients with a message encouraging them to take control of their treatment. Genentech is also taking its message directly to local neurologists.

Part of the issue so far has been not only that younger people may feel intimidated in speaking up to older, established neurologists, but also that they weren’t as focused on their disease as older patients might be.

“They often prioritize living their lives over thinking about treatment,” Massey said. “If you think about where these people are between the ages of 22 to 39, so much is going on in their lives, and they’re not yet feeling acute disability, so they might be putting these discussions off.”

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Throughout the campaign development, Genentech leaned on an advisory board of patients and advocates for input. It was a new tactic for the company that Massey said resulted in a campaign shaped in look, feel and sound by patients.

One specific change Genentech made thanks to that input was the lack of walking aids initially in the TV ad. The first iterations they previewed did not have any patients with canes or walking sticks, and patients pushed back that those were a real part of their lives and important to include.

TV ads first began airing in 10 pilot markets in September, with national TV, including streaming services like Hulu, beginning more recently. The company is pouring its digital efforts into the website, YouTube and Facebook, among other channels.