Salix taps TikTok for the first time in constipation campaign push

Constipation is a tricky issue in marketing: It can affect anyone of any age but, like any healthcare problem below the waist, can and does lead to embarrassment and a corresponding lack of takeup in prescriptions.

With a campaign timed to coincide with Constipation Awareness Month in December, Salix Pharmaceuticals is hoping to help people open up by turning to the latest craze in social media.

The specialty pharma, a part of the Bausch Health family—and seller of Relistor for several types of constipation, including opioid-induced constipation—has launched a whole host of multimedia educational packages for the condition.

It is also, and for the very first time, tapping TikTok, the short video social media app, hoping to ride its massive appeal and its ability to draw in not just users but healthcare professionals as well.

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The pharma has turned to five leading healthcare workers who are active on TikTok, including Ethan Melillo, a pharmacist who helps educate his nearly 40,000 followers about health issues, and Jennifer Fijor, a gastroenterology nurse practitioner.

“I talk about lots of different types of constipation with my TikTok followers, because not all constipation is created equally,” Fijor explained. “In my experience, most patients are unaware that their opioids could be causing their constipation. Through this partnership with Salix, I hope to bring awareness to OIC so that chronic pain patients on opioid therapy can get more information.”

It's not just patients and healthcare workers who need educating about constipation, but caregivers as well, said 

Nicola Kayel, vice president of marketing at Salix.

“There are different forms of constipation, and we have a role to play in helping educate our audience on not just the disorder, but the types of constipation, too,” Kayel told Fierce Pharma Marketing.

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Kayel said Constipation Awareness Month provided the platform, but the execution came down to this: “How do we get to the right patient at the right time?”

“We chose the social media platform because it’s a way to get in front of people and really get their attention, but it’s also a way to really de-stigmatize the condition,” she explained. “Going onto social media, especially TikTok which is right now the ‘in thing’, can really help remove that stigma.

“When we do patient research, we see that one of the last things any patient wants to bring up is constipation so we’re trying to let them know that it’s OK, and that there are options available.”

So why TikTok in particular? Kayel said Salix jumped on the fact that it’s the fastest-growing social media platform. “And we’re also seeing that, more and more, people want to digest their media in a video format, and in a short format, which obviously what TikTok delivers.”

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Looking to the future, it will “become a major part of [Salix’s] marketing mix,” Kayel said, though she was keen to stress this doesn’t mean the company will be moving away from other social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. TikTok will instead become “complementary” to these platforms.

You may be surprised to see no famous face attached to this drive: So many healthcare campaigns turn to celebrities for an endorsement, but Salix deliberately stayed away. “We did our due diligence to find healthcare professionals who had both the credibility but also the appropriate [social media] following to really get in front of that right patient," Kayel said.

“When your goal is education, it’s important to have people who can bring value to partner with,” she said, rather than relying on just the sheer appeal of a celebrity.

The name of the game for Salix’s business is, of course, earning revenue from Relistor, so is there a dollar value on this campaign and its expected return on investment?

“It’s difficult to track from start to prescriptions getting written, but one metric we use for this are the two websites ( and," Kayel said. Salix will be tracking the traffic to those websites to see "whether we are getting an uptick, which would indicate that we have achieved our goal, i.e., activating a patient to seek more information and then going onto a branded website to learn more.”

This follows a small but growing trend in pharma dipping into TikTok; Reckitt Benckiser's cold and flu brand Mucinex made history as the first OTC med on TikTok two years ago, and, more recently, we’ve seen scientists taking to the app to promote pro-vaccine messages amid COVID.

Pharma, always trepidatious about tripping up over regulations, hasn’t jumped feet first into TikTok, but Salix seems an early adopter and one willing to really test the waters—and confident in what it can achieve. It will be interesting to see how it works out, though the company said, while still early days, it’s been getting some strong feedback already.