Shire's DTC move to scrap smiling patients for double 'i's pays off—and it thinks other pharmas should take note

The DTC spots for Shire’s Xiidra probably don't look like the other DTC spots you’ve seen. And that’s the way the company wanted it.

Launching the dry-eye product into a market of 30 million people experiencing signs and symptoms of the malady—only 1 million of whom were already on prescription treatment—Shire “knew we had to make a great first impression,” Michelle Nguyen, director of consumer marketing for Shire’s ophthalmic business, told an audience last week at the DTC National Conference in Boston.

“We knew that as a brand we needed to share our personality in one big fell swoop, and we only had one chance to do that,” she said.

The approach Shire went with homed in on the brand name’s double “i.” The biotech’s stylized 60- and 30-second spots—absent the smiling, active patients normally highlighted in DTC ads—instead featured words and letters dancing across the screen, doubling up the key letter in phrases such as “Niice to meet you” and “Say hii to Xiidra.”

“It seemed so obvious, we couldn’t believe that no one had done it before,” Nguyen said.

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

So far, Shire’s take on DTC has helped it roll to about a 20% market share in 6 months—“a trajectory none of us expected,” Nguyen said. While Xiidra is the only product indicated specifically for dry eye, it’s up against Allergan blockbuster Restasis, which has been used for years to treat the condition.

RELATED: Shire's new dry-eye approval means it's time for an Allergan showdown

The way Nguyen sees it, that’s confirmation that pharma should keep pushing the boundaries on traditional DTC.

“I know that this as a brand feels very, very different, and hopefully it gets you guys thinking out of the box,” she said, adding that as an industry, “I think we set the bar a little bit low around what branding can be. We can be like the iconic brands that we admire; … we should hold ourselves to a standard like Target, like Dove, and hopefully like Xiidra in the future.”