When AstraZeneca and VML Health set out to introduce the Airsupra inhaler to consumers following its approval by the FDA last year, they decided to go about as old-school as one can.

No, not through a classic rock throwback or a nostalgia-driven effort. 

Instead, the British pharma giant debuted Walter, a pint-sized Tyrannosaurus rex, as the face of its Airsupra campaign.

Appearing as if he is trailing along behind an asthma patient, Walter the Dino awkwardly fits into elevators and doctors’ offices. 

However, once Walter’s human friend is prescribed an Airsupra inhaler, the dinosaur hops in a cab, waves goodbye and departs, having been supplanted by the more modern asthma treatment. 

The affable dinosaur wears an albuterol inhaler around his neck on a heavy chain, driving home the metaphor that there has been a significant advancement in asthma treatments.

For Nicole Skiljo, executive director of U.S. marketing at AstraZeneca, the direct-to-consumer campaign to introduce one of the first advances in inhalers in some 50 years, had to begin with educating the audience of consumers.

Asthma is a fairly well-known condition, one that impacts an estimated 25 million Americans, but it still requires an informative approach on behalf of the drugmaker.

“We found that many people are used to living with that condition and they trust and depend on their albuterol inhaler,” she says. “However, when you ask them, the majority of these patients don’t realize that albuterol only treats symptoms.” 

AstraZeneca ad
Image used with permission.

Airsupra, on the other hand, addresses both symptoms and the underlying inflammation with a combination of albuterol and budesonide, an inhaled corticosteroid. 

To delineate the difference from other treatment options, AstraZeneca focused on educating its target audience on the role of inflammation in asthma. This included underscoring the role that albuterol plays, which is to alleviate the bronchodilation, but not necessarily to treat the underlying inflammation. 

“That education [component] was important to help our patient audience understand the role of inflammation in asthma,” she says. 

Meeting Walter the Dino

When Skiljo and others at AstraZeneca were first introduced to the Walter concept, the prehistoric creature was an immediate hit, she says. 

The idea of embodying traditional approaches to rescue in the form of a dinosaur with an albuterol inhaler was easy to grasp. 

“It resonated,” she says. “It quickly made sense to the audience in the room and then, of course, we tested it further with patients.” She says consumer feedback was crucial to refining the character and furthering its appeal. 

The ads starring Walter first began to appear last month, which was interesting timing considering AstraZeneca also announced that, effective June 1, out-of-pocket costs for all of its inhaler products (including Symbicort, Breztri Aerosphere and Airsupra) would be capped at $35

The spots have been especially concentrated in heavily-watched morning and primetime segments. Beyond AstraZeneca’s omnichannel approach including digital, out-of-home and social media, Skiljo also says that Walter may be making appearances in materials for doctor’s offices. 

While Walter has a winsome appeal, Skiljo highlights the important message and the revolutionary impact of the product that this dinosaur represents. 

“Asthma patients rely on albuterol-only rescue inhalers to treat their symptoms, but they don’t address the inflammation that’s responsible for the attacks,” she says. “This DTC campaign is designed to empower patients so they can treat their symptoms and help prevent future asthma attacks.”