Pfizer’s 'Living With Cancer' wowed Cannes attendees, if not the pharma jury

Pfizer presented its living with cancer campaign this week at the Cannes Lions Health ad festival. (Beth Snyder Bulik)

A Pfizer documentary film about five patients living with cancer may have inspired more fanfare at Cannes Lions Health than it did in the eight months since its launch. The “This is Living With Cancer” film and its associated campaign was shortlisted for a pharma award at the annual ad festival and was heaped with praise after Pfizer presented it in an open session.

The campaign didn’t nab a trophy, but it won hearts and minds with its real and uncompromising portrayal of people living with different cancers.

The black-and-white filmed documentary, which followed five patients over four months in 2017, quietly posted to the campaign website in October, and it has been distributed since then in snippets of content on social media and previewed at events as it was in Cannes, said Savitri Basavaiah, oncology portfolio marketing team leader at Pfizer. She presented the campaign (trailer below) in a Monday session along with Dina Peck, creative director at its ad agency Patients & Purpose, and the film’s director Kyle Ruddick of Helo Productions.

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“The one thing we’ve done differently is that we’ve made this pan tumor and tumor agnostic and asked what are the universal truths and experiences that everyone faces? That has really made a difference for us,” Basavaiah said. “It’s a clear testament to Pfizer’s patient first–then energy and the resources behind doing something like this. But also from a customer perspective, it’s very well received that the program we’re offering is for anyone.”

Along with the film, the campaign included digital, social and in-office materials, plus a unique app that—like the film—covers all cancer types. The free LivingWith app lines up tools and resources to help patients manage daily life with cancer. The app is a place to keep notes, store records, log moods and feelings and even ask for help. The patient data stays private with the diarist—Pfizer does not collect data from the app.

So far, the response has been “exciting,” Basavaiah said, with tens of thousands of downloads and positive feedback from patients, healthcare providers and others.

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“Today you could probably do all of these things using multiple different tools,” she said of the app. “But this puts it all in one place, and the other insight we keep hearing is it’s just overwhelming amount of information or resources you’re getting.”

The internal financial support for the campaign was different, too; it came from “ring-fenced” funds set aside for patient-first projects. She noted that Pfizer Chief Operating Officer Albert Bourla is the one who first shifted the conversation to patient-first precepts, and that support makes projects like “This is Living With Cancer” possible.

When asked if the campaign might provide a marketing blueprint for other Pfizer projects, Basavaiah said it was built in such a way that it could be used by other therapeutic areas. But even if the campaign isn’t directly copied, Basavaiah hopes that the idea of “living with” a disease, rather than allowing disease to define a person, will spread.