Allergan debuts #ActuallySheCan campaign

Allergan launched the campaign #ActuallySheCan, an answer to the emotive, inundated declaration adopted by young women across the country: “I can't even.”

Women—millennial women, in particular—are a crucial segment of Allergan's business. The company estimates that 62% of patients on Allergan products are women and that its US sales force touches more than 30,000 gynecologists each year.

“One of the things that's very special about this generation is that they're the most educated, empowered, successful generation of women we've ever seen,” explained Herm Cukier, vice president of women's healthcare for Allergan. “And they're looking for ways and means to overcome the negativity and the obstacles in their life and [this campaign is about] moving from ‘I can't even' to ‘actually you can' and ‘actually she can.'”

Lo Loestrin Fe, an oral contraceptive, leads the women's health sales in North America for Allergan and brought in sales of $83 million in the first three months of 2015. Allergan also recently received approval for another contraceptive, Liletta, a long-term hormonal intrauterine device. The company's overall revenue in the women's health segment grew by 26% to $267.5 million in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the same period a year ago—accounting for 6% of the company's revenue.

It may come as no surprise, then, that Allergan, which seems to be turning the industry on its head and has eschewed early-stage drug discovery while touting its mantra of constant innovation (and spending billions on acquisitions in the process), is the one trying to deliver on a drugmaker promise as old as the iPad with its new campaign.

So, what's so different about #ActuallySheCan? This isn't the first healthcare campaign focused on empowering women. Other similar campaigns include Procter & Gamble's #LikeAGirl campaign and FCB Inferno London's “This Girl Can” for Sport England, both big winners at the Cannes Lions and Lions Health creativity festivals in Cannes, France, in June.

For one, Cukier said, this campaign is about fostering a discussion among women, not at them.

“This is a platform and medium for women to get more educated,” he explained. “This is not just a traditional social-media platform with standard banner ads and tweeting content about a product.”

In seeking an authentic and balanced tone, Allergan partnered with celebrities including actor Lea Michele, reality television personality Lo Bosworth and Youtube personality iJustine.

“It's not a one-way dialogue between a company and its customers,” said Bill Meury (pictured), president of branded pharmaceuticals for Allergan. “Millennials don't want to receive information that way. We know that, and it's certainly multifactorial and fully integrated with a surround sound sort of feel. Typically, the communication channel in healthcare was in a physician's office and a hospital—now it's everywhere and it's 24/7.”

#ActuallySheCan will be featured on the usual social-media channels, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Women will be encouraged to visit ActuallySheCan.com, upload a selfie and read more about their healthcare options. It will also feature live events and panel discussions through HerCampus.com, a website for college-age women.

The website features three components, a place to upload selfies so users can convert them to “shemojis,” information about contraceptive options (including details about Lo Loestrin Fe) and information about upcoming events related to the campaign.

In addition, there will be an essay contest featured in Cosmopolitan. Allergan tapped agency Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve to develop the campaign.

“This is just the starting point,” Cukier said. “This isn't just a three-month campaign. In five years I hope we'll look back and see that this a starting point to a more transformational approach.”

The launch of the campaign isn't the only sweeping change for the drugmaker. The company officially adopted the moniker Allergan a month ago after a whirlwind of acquisitions beginning in 2013. Actavis, known for acquiring companies rather than heavily investing in R&D, acquired Allergan in November 2014. Allergan, on the other hand, has described its operations as “customer-focused,” even rallying a group of ophthalmologists to help it fight a Valeant takeover in 2014.

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders, former CEO of Actavis and Forest Laboratories, another company acquired by Actavis, has touted this buying spree as part of a larger strategy that he dubs “growth pharma,” a model that favors growth through acquiring mid- to late-stage assets and finding value through commercializing those assets rather than making its own laboratory discoveries.

“Our view is that drug discovery can be risky, time-consuming and costly—and frankly—small companies do it as well as large companies,” explained Meury. “Ultimately, growth pharma is about customer focus and innovation, along with high sales growth rates. We have R&D, we have development, we're just not doing discovery in the sense of brick-and-mortar [laboratories].”

The growth pharma model isn't just lip service to mask a greater consolidation trend, Meury said.

“There's an expectation internally to challenge the status quo, to think differently and be laser focused when it comes to customers—which is easier said than done—but I can tell you today, the employees have one constituency and they are the people who use their products, and that orientation exists at the very top of the company starting with Brent Saunders,” he added. “I think a lot of companies overlook that.”

Pharma is often charged with communicating on a one-way street—one where there is more preaching and less discussion. For years pharma executives have admonished this paradigm with charismatic speeches advocating for “patient-centricity” and moving “beyond the pill.”

With that hype, patients and physicians waited for this slow-moving ship of an industry to finally reach their shores and better engage them in channels, like social media, where they already exist and serve them in a way they've come to expect from other industries.

However, according to a recent survey conducted by WEGO Health, not much has changed for customers. Nearly half the survey's respondents said that pharma's engagement efforts are no different than the prior year's.

“Millennials represent a quarter of the population and in the not so distant future they'll be consuming more healthcare than baby boomers,” says Meury, “There's an expectation about how they want to interact with companies.”