Case Study - Heartworm Awareness Month
- HEARTGARD Plus is the veterinarians' #1 choice for heartworm prevention
- The category is dealing with a national decline in overall visits to veterinarians
- HEARTGARD's non-branded educational effort generated higher-than-anticipated practice participation
- HEARTGARD saw positive sales
- Most pet owners are not as informed as they should be
- Many veterinarians don't realize how uninformed pet owners are
- Veterinarians are too busy being doctors to be marketers
- Educational materials are highly valued
We interrupt this case study to bring you a story of related ignorance - and subsequent marketing illumination - from our creative director, Mike Guiry.
The agency has been marketing HEARTGARD products to veterinarians for well over 10 years. Like many agencies, we proudly display some of our notable work up and down our hallways. Well, with Merial, then Merck, Pharmaceuticals being one of our largest and better accounts, we had an entire wall for them, including 4 or 5 HEARTGARD pieces. I didn't work on the business at the time, but I did walk by this wall all day long. Unfortunately, I never really stopped to actually read these pieces in depth - I've had pets all my life and kind of figured that I knew everything I needed to know about preventing heartworm disease.
Sooo, when my wife told me our dog tested positive for heartworms, I was confused. I was also embarrassed and felt like a terrible dog owner. (Now, that might be a bit harsh, but it's not entirely untrue, either.) See, I thought only puppies got heartworms. And I kept the yard cleared - OK, pretty cleared - of doggy business.
Well, I got my answers and learned my lesson the hard way:
Dogs eating feces can lead to hookworms, roundworms and whipworms, but heartworm disease is actually spread by mosquitoes. I didn't know that. Since it's mosquito borne, all dogs are susceptible to heartworm disease. I didn't know that. Curing heartworm disease is hard, expensive and there's no guarantee your dog will survive. I didn't know that.
Flash forward a couple of years, and I'm the CD on the Merial account. When they asked us to develop a campaign supporting the American Heartworm Society's annual promotion of Heartworm Awareness Month, I had more than a few ideas: I had genuine insights that I knew we could turn into a powerful marketing campaign that would initiate conversation, education and illumination among pet owners - and generate sales of HG in veterinary practices throughout the country.
One of the not-so-surprising trickledown effects of the country's economic turmoil is turning out to be a decrease in the number of vet visits. HEARTGARD realized they might start feeling that impact sooner or later, but felt the bigger issue hampering the brand's growth was the fact that pet owners who were going to the vet still didn't realize the seriousness of heartworm disease - and their veterinarians didn't realize that. Their research, and my survey of one, bore this hypothesis out.
Our charge here was to get as many clinics as possible to take part in the American Heartworm Society's April is Heartworm Awareness Month. By generating more conversations in more clinics, HEARTGARD felt they could foster more education and increase the number of pets being protected against the disease (and preferably with HEARTGARD Plus).
Hard-hitting reality: According to the findings, many pet owners were indeed misinformed on the source of heartworm disease, the medical and financial implications, the severity of treatment and prevention.
The cold hard truth is that heartworm disease is a potentially fatal condition that's very difficult and expensive to treat - and prevention is so easy that no dog should ever have to suffer from the disease or its cure. From a creative standpoint, we wanted to alert owners - and vets - to the seriousness of the situation while making it clear that prevention is entirely in their hands. That can be a fine line to walk, but we felt the visceral impact of the visuals and clarity of message would come across as tough, but fair and produce a positive reaction, both in terms of perception and purchase.
Soft sell branding: HEARTGARD Plus is the category's top brand, the heartworm preventive recommended by more veterinarians and requested by more pet owners. In order to get more practices to take part in the program and to display the materials, we went with the rising tide raises all boats philosophy and decided to make everything pet owners saw non-branded. We also wanted the materials to outlive the designated heartworm awareness month, so we developed messaging and visuals that would remain relevant year-round.
Vet-proof execution: The demands on veterinarians are growing every day. In addition to their traditional responsibilities, the competition for patients, proliferation of new products and changes in technology are driving vets to spend more and more time on practice management and, as a by-product, less time practicing medicine. They're doctors, not marketers. So to support the cause, they needed turnkey solutions that would work hard without requiring hard work. That's exactly what we gave them with this program.
We generated a higher-than-expected enrollment from practices across the country - including regions with lower occurrences of the disease. The work was extremely well received, and even required several reprints. Even though the work was unbranded, over 70% of practices attributed the efforts to Merial/HEARTGARD. And, thankfully, the idea of a rising tide lifts all boats held true - the unbranded effort helped the brand achieve its goal. And the dog that inspired it? He went on to inspire the best selling book, Marley and Me. No, just kidding. He survived the treatment and lived a happy, HEARTGARDed life until cancer got a hold of him. But that's another story for another brand and another day...