Talk to your doc about BMs? Trulance maker Synergy deploys 'Poop Troop' emojis instead

Synergy debuted emoji characters as part of a chronic idiopathic constipation awareness campaign.(Source: Synergy Pharmaceuticals)

What’s the poop? A new emoji keyboard from Synergy Pharmaceuticals, that's what, as the drugmaker launches its latest chronic idiopathic constipation campaign.

Synergy, which won approval for its new constipation med Trulance earlier this year, debuted its “Poop Troop” emoji keyboard with a cast of animated characters to represent different types of bowel movements and emotions.

Fourteen different characters form this cast, from Plugged Up Paulie and Stressed-Out Stooly to Doody Dan and Ploptimisitic Peter. They're designed to illustrate bowel health—and disorder—from constipation to normal to diarrhea conditions.

The idea is that people suffering with GI issues can use the forthrightly fun and emotive emojis to easily communicate what they’re feeling. No need to fumble for words that, even when they're the right ones, aren't easy to say aloud.

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The Synergy characters fit in with a trend among companies with GI meds—bowel meds in particular. They're supporting drugs for irritable bowel syndrome, opioid-induced constipation and, in Trulance's case, chronic idiopathic constipation, with awareness campaigns designed to help them talk about bathroom problems, typically considered taboo.

Drugmakers hope that talking about symptoms in general will help sufferers summon the courage to talk to their doctors about potential treatments. When Linzess, a head-to-head competitor to Trulance, launched in 2014, marketers leveraged research showing patients don't know how to describe their symptoms if they decide to talk to their doctors about chronic constipation.

Emojis seemed to be a particularly good fit for Synergy’s target audience—women under age 40, said Julie Holcombe, senior director of marketing at Synergy. While 90% of smartphone users use emojis, women use emojis twice as often as men, according to research. Women even specifically use the traditional poop emoji more than men.

“It started with listening to the patients, and in getting groups of people together for research, it almost felt like therapy. They were finally able to share what they’re going through with people who understood,” she said.

“You see that with a lot with many different therapeutic categories," she added, "but what was interesting here was the embarrassment factor. Patients felt like they couldn’t have open conversations with those even closest to them without feeling that they weren’t validated or weren’t really understood.”

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The popularity of the standard poop emoji inspired the idea that, if everyone can relate to at particular emoji—and many feel comfortable using it—more specific figures could be used as a dialogue tool to talk about real bowel health.

The emoji app and keyboard can be downloaded on the Apple or Google app stores and are part of Synergy’s larger educational “Confront Constipation” program.

“We hear from healthcare professionals that people are literally bringing them pictures of their bowel movements,” Holcombe said. “In an odd way in the digital environment we live in, it kind of makes sense. So we thought maybe there’s a nicer way to do this that allows people to say this is where I am, this is where I want to be and set the treatment goal along this range.”

The PR, digital and social Confront Constipation campaign will evolve, she said, in ongoing efforts to encourage conversation around chronic idiopathic constipation. 

Synergy received FDA approval for its CIC treatment Trulance in January entering the market against Allergan and Ironwood’s Linzess. While Trulance was only initially approved for CIC, analysts expect a second greenlight for IBS-C later this year.

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Recent media reports have noted Synergy’s gain of more than 50 sales reps from embattled Valeant’s GI salesforce. Synergy sales reps, however, will not be taking the Poop Troop campaign out to doctors’ offices and are focused on product information, Holcombe said.

Oppenheimer analyst Derek Archila expects Synergy's newcomer med to net about $30 million between its March launch and the end of this year, and $100 million in 2018. But that’s not to say Trulance will have it easy. Allergan’s Linzess has had its CIC green light since 2012, and it raked in $452 million through the first nine months of 2016.