Why Doug the Pug’s owners told a young cancer survivor’s story through song

Horizon Therapeutics teamed up with the famous pup’s parents to raise awareness for people with rare diseases.

Why Doug the Pug’s owners told a young cancer survivor’s story through song

Campaign: Leanor meets Doug the Pug
Company: Horizon Therapeutics
Agency Partners: Hill+Knowlton Strategies (social), Flying House Media (video)
Duration: February 15-28, 2022
Budget: Less than $100,000

Biopharmaceutical company Horizon Therapeutics enlisted Doug the Pug to increase awareness of a child’s rare bone cancer journey and market the company.

Strategy

Doug the Pug turns more heads than most dogs. The celebrity dog has 3.8 million followers on Instagram.

Horizon Therapeutics is a biopharmaceutical company focused on treatments for rare diseases. So when a member of the company’s creative teamed learned in fall 2021 that Leanor Formo, a 7-year-old girl with a rare form of bone cancer, was meeting Doug, Horizon Therapeutics jumped at the chance to partner with the pup.

“Let’s get together and see what we can do for [Formo],” Geoff Curtis, Horizon Therapeutics’ EVP of corporate affairs and chief communications officer, explained of his company’s pitch to Doug the Pug’s owners. “Our approach is always about raising awareness for people with rare diseases.”

Formo has Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that affects only 200 children and young adults in the United States annually. She underwent aggressive treatments including chemotherapy, and in 2020 had surgery to remove the tumor and her left tibia, according to a press release. Providers at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital in Indianapolis then relocated her right fibula as an autograft, and she is now doing well.

Horizon Therapeutics CEO Tim Walbert and his son both have rare diseases, Curtis said.

“It’s a personal mission of ours,” said Curtis. “We are in the rare disease business primarily because of the journey that [Walbert] has been through, and the fact that he understands the need to continue to research and develop treatments.”

Tactics

In 2017, Horizon Therapeutics launched #RAREis, a social media campaign to tell the stories of people with rare diseases.

And three years ago, the campaign partnered with the Sing Me a Story, a nonprofit that turns stories written by children into songs and then uses those songs to raise money for children in need. Horizon partnered with the group to create about 40 songs for kids with rare diseases.

In the case of Formo, Horizon learned that Doug the Pug’s owners, Leslie Mosier and Rob Chianelli, were singer-songwriters, so it “became very easy from a storytelling and matching standpoint as to who was going to produce this song based on Leanor’s story,” explained Curtis.

“I don’t think you see too many biotech or pharma companies partnering with a celebrity pet and going the singer-songwriter route with Sing Me a Story to elevate voices in this way.” 

Using a story written by Formo and her sister, Mosier and Chianelli produced a song, “The Quest for the Golden Pearl.”

“This is a galaxy where dogs can talk, and the magic castle reigns. The flower gave power to all of the kingdom.” Mosier sings in a campaign video. “Be golden. Be golden.”

The team created a music video featuring illustrations of the lyrics and Doug enjoying the song, while Formo and her family laugh as they hear the tune for the first time.

“I don’t know that I’ve heard them laugh quite this much in a long time,” said Formo’s mother.

Horizon Therapeutics ended the campaign on February 28, Rare Disease Day. The day highlights the fact that among the 7,000 rare diseases affecting 30 million people in the U.S., most do not have a treatment, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

The campaign “makes business sense for us because we know there is a lot of need in the community,” said Curtis.

Results

A Doug the Pug Foundation Instagram post about Formo’s song generated more than 19,000 likes and posts about the campaign by fellow celebrity influencers @magnusthetherapydog and @clarkthecub received more than 64,000 likes.

Additionally, the campaign produced a 3.8% increase in followers across #RAREis Instagram and Facebook accounts; a 154% engagement increase across #RAREis Instagram and Facebook accounts; a 7.35% organic social engagement rate; and 57,772 organic and paid social likes.

Curtis said the company was pleased with the impact of the campaign.

“To see the increase in people going to the website; sharing a story; liking a story; and getting involved in the movement was really nice to see, and the fact that we had a nice increase from a channel flow standpoint was an added bonus,” he said.

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