Men Who Can't Pee: A Failed Commercial

"Say goodbye to weak stream and hello to a laser beam" -Rhett & Link

Conventional wisdom was turned upside down for a medical device manufacturer. YouTube, a communication medium for the young could not reach an audience of older men with prostate problems. Or could it?

Yesterday I attended another 'unconference', the Healthcamp Minnesota at the University of Minnesota, Mayo Auditorium. Session panel member John Reid, Chief Executive Officer, AbbeyMoor Medical, spoke about how his company used YouTube to market a medical device, the Spanner, a prostatic stent that holds open the urethra, allowing men with enlarged prostates to urinate more easily. Since I work for a major medical device manufacturer, I was especially interested in what John had to say.

The Spanner is intended for temporary use (up to 30 days) to maintain urine flow and allow voluntary urination in patients following minimally invasive treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and after initial post-treatment catheterization. The other alternative for these men is the traditional Foley catheter.

AbbeyMoor hired a couple of comedians from North Carolina to create a "spoof" commercial YouTube video about the product. In the four minute video, Rusty Barefoot, Sr. and Larnold Jernigan, Sr, played by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, try to make a commercial about The Spanner but can't quite get through it without messing it up, much to the annoyance of the director.

The video was a big hit on the Internet and has received over 163,000 views to-date. The Minneapolis Star Tribune picked it up in their article about "The Spanner: Help for enlarged prostates."

During the Q&A, John indicated that he fought idea of spanner video "kicking and screaming." However it turns out that speaking in a human voice was amazingly successful. Much to his surprise John indicated that even doctors (urologists) appreciated the urological humor. He was a convert.

John said Youtube demographics (mostly age 13 to 24) were not the target but that the viral nature of video got the word out to target audience secondarily.
"That suggests the video is attracting two waves of people: the normally young YouTube crowd who finds it funny but then refer the video to people who actually need the product."
AbbeyMoor Medical capitalized on this further by adding a short text caption message to the end of their video: "Share this video with your dad, granddad, husband... and your doctor."

As a startup with limited funds AbbeyMoor Medical has no sales or field staff. Instead they offer an online in-service introduction to The Spanner followed by a Spanner Training Kit and 20 minute online training for physicians and their clinical staff. ('WebEx' Training). The training demonstrates how the office-based stent can be a useful alternative to catheterization for bladder outlet obstruction (BOO).

The HealthCamp unconference discussion then went on to explore how major medical device companies like mine with a large, expensive field presence will need to rethink their resource-intensive sales/field staff model. Much food for thought here.

I firmly believe that it is mission critical for major medical device manufacturers get on board and learn to have conversations with their markets in a human voice. This will lead to changes in how they do business.

(The opinions expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer.)