For people living with chronic illnesses, staying hydrated is essential. But at the same time, doing so often presents its share of challenges. Drinks containing sugar, stevia, dextrose, natural flavors and artificial dyes may be tasty and thirst-quenching in equal parts, but those ingredients can cause inflammation and other complications for people living with chronic conditions.
Enter Buoy Hydration, a company which counts as its mission providing support on the hydration front. Its unsweetened and unflavored “wellness drops” are designed to be added to beverages that include trace minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
Until now, Buoy’s promotional efforts have been limited to deep discounts for consumers living with chronic illness and donations to charity of Buoy supplements for every one that’s purchased. The company expect to surpass one million servings donated to charity in the next quarter.
That changed on July 30, when Buoy debuted its first-ever marketing campaign, #ToBeSeen. The effort is centered around a seven-minute film – shot on 16-mm film, no less – that recalls deadpan high-school comedies like Napoleon Dynamite and Election.
Viewers follow four high-school students, played by TikTok influencers Ashley Feasel, Dom Snyder, Paula Sojo and Renee Welch, as they experience the torment of dodge ball and the anticipation of the prom. The laughs serve a higher purpose, however. While living with a chronic illness can be challenging at any age, high-schoolers often feel the isolation and invisibility in a more profound manner.
The #ToBeSeen actors understand the challenge: They are open on TikTok about living with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes and POTS – and these illnesses are incorporated into the plot of the film. Viewers are encouraged to share their own TikToks about living with chronic illness, using the #ToBeSeen hashtag.
Buoy founder and CMO Eddie Zelenak decided to focus on teenagers in the wake of a series of patient interviews. “In high school and college, living with a chronic illness is such an alienating, isolating feeling,” he explained. “Pretty much everyone said the same thing: Managing it as an adult sucks, but the adolescent phase was the worst.”
Zelenak said the Buoy team was drawn to TikTok due both to the tone of its content and the way the platform facilitates discovery.
“The culture of TikTok is rawer and it favors authentic storytelling more than other social platforms, like Instagram and Facebook, that are more polished,” he explained. “It lends itself well to pulling back the curtain for a more behind-the-scenes look. You get to relate to a person with a chronic illness in a way that you probably haven’t been able to do if you were only following them on other platforms.”
Even as it continues to grow, TikTok’s core audience remains 18- to 24-year-olds – the target of this particular Buoy campaign, even if much of the market for its products may be older. Asked whether this effort will exclude those audiences, Zelenak countered that no campaign can be effective with every demographic.
“I think it’s better to do one thing well, and I also think the younger generation will get the older ones talking,” he said. “I’m not super worried about the direct consumer sales from this campaign. If we take this community seriously, if we represent their stories and we get the conversation started, then they will recognize that the brand puts the people that use and benefit from the product first.”
Zelenak is also betting that the campaign will indirectly reach consumers who are not on TikTok. “I’m not so worried about the people that aren’t there finding out about it,” he added. “The campaign will be on YouTube and we’re partnering with other communities to help spread the word elsewhere.”
In the end, if the humor of the film resonates and people buzz about it, then Zelenak will be happy, regardless of any specific KPIs.
“If we can push this social cause to the front of cultural relevance, even for a short period of time, it’s a successful campaign,” he said.