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Exhibitor: Vifor International Inc.
Creative/Production: Impact Unlimited GmbH, Wil, Switzerland, 41-71-790-0055,
Show: European Renal Association- European Dialysis and Transplant Association Congress, 2008
Budget: $75,000
Introduce Ferinject, an injectable iron therapy, to attendees at ERA-EDTA 2008.
Educate 10 percent of attendees on the key differentiators of Ferinject.
Attracted thousands of booth visitors to its exhibit.
Schooled at least 26 percent of attendees on the benefits of Ferinject.

hen Vifor International Inc. prepared to debut Ferinject, an injectable iron therapy, at the 2008 European Renal Association-European Dialysis and Transplant (ERA-EDT) Association Congress in Stockholm, Sweden, the company felt squeezed tighter than a tourniquet.

Vifor, a Zurich, Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company,wanted to tell the show's estimated 7,000 kidney specialists about its iron therapy and how it differs from its competitors. But the no-fun-allowed European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations' (EFPIA) restrictions regarding pre- and at-show promotions at the show made reaching that goal particularly difficult.

Unlike in the United States, where drug manufacturers can advertise products and their benefits with television commercials and magazine ads, European pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to promote their products directly to patients. In fact, the only giveaways they were allowed to pass out at 2008 shows were educational items, such as charts or anatomical models. (The EFPIA regulations have since become even more restrictive, and don't allow giveaways of any kind.) It's also prohibited for companies to make direct comparisons between their products and those of their competitors, a particularly steep hurdle for Vifor, since part of its primary objectives at the show involved differentiating Ferinject from other iron therapies on the market.

But standing out from the crowd while handicapped with so many restrictions was proving almost as difficult as trying to perform brain surgery in the dark. So the company began brainstorming, hoping to come up with an engaging, educational, traffic-building activity to help educate the ERA-EDTA crowd about Ferinject.

Pumping Iron

Given the serious and scholastic subject matter of the ERA-EDTA congress - kidney disease - most exhibitors avoid a fun-and-games aura in their exhibits, instead erring on the side of scientific and straightforward approaches. However, during a brainstorming session with the Swiss branch of Dayton, NJ-based Impact Unlimited, the company agreed on an untraditional strategy: Create a game that offers fun along with the company's key educational messages.

"We want to educate and entertain people at the booth," says Carsten Nadler, Impact Unlimited's key account manager. "It was important to involve attendees instead of only informing them - only then does a message have a lasting effect."

But Vifor's new strategy had to be more than just fun and games. It needed to help the company compare and contrast Ferinject with other competingiron therapies - without mentioning those competitors and violating the EFPIA restrictions. And ideally,it had to simultaneously entertain and involveattendees, drawing them to the booth space, educating them about Ferinject, and - hopefully -enticing them to stick around after the game to further explore the product.

Ironing Out the Kinks

Prior to Ferinject's introduction, the methods of getting the proper amount of iron into patients were a mixed bottle of pills. The older form of injectable iron therapy delivered a strong dose, but was hard to control. Newer oral products offered an easier way to control dosages, but they lacked the strength of earlier medications. According to Vifor, the Ferinject brand of injectable iron represents the proper mix of safety and efficacy for patients with non-dialysis chronic kidney disease.

Stephan Gut, Vifor's brand director of Anemia TA, says the inspiration for the final game came from a member of the Vifor medical team, who suggested incorporating clothing irons as visual metaphors for the different types of iron therapies. That simple idea grew into an overarching concept dubbed the "Fabulous Iron Game."

Impact Unlimited began developing the in-booth activity by selecting a different household iron to represent each of the three types of iron therapies. To denote the older, higher-strength iron therapy, Impact Unlimited chose an antique iron made of, well, iron. It represented the "powerful, but hard to control" iron therapies of the past while a lightweight, predominantly plastic travel iron symbolized the newer product that offered better efficacy, but less strength. Meanwhile, a modern iron bearing Ferinject's signature red-and-purple colors represented the Ferinject therapy.

With those basic components in hand, Impact Unlimited designed a game station that bore more than a passing resemblance to an ironing board. The purple ironing-board-shaped playing surface was digitally printed with images of red blood cells, while the three individual irons were tucked into cradles along one end of the 6-by-3-foot table.

Attached to the opposite end of the red-and-purple branded counter was a roughly 10-foot-tall display with an electronic screen, topped by a sign that owed its roots to Las Vegas and read, "Welcome to Fabulous Iron Game."

The screen featured a row of 20 lights running down the left side: five yellow, 10 green, and five red. Figures listed on the right side represented different levels of iron. The red lights signified iron overload, the yellow lights represented iron deficiency, and the green lights - referred to as the target zone - symbolized the optimal iron intake.

Heavy Metal

At the show, the Fabulous Iron Game station stood in a corner of Vifor's 32-by-32-foot booth, visible to attendees approaching from the converging aisles. Meanwhile, a booth hostess beckoned attendees as they neared the exhibit, encouraging them to take part in the game.

As crowds gathered, the hostess asked attendees if there was anyone who would like to play the Fabulous Iron Game. When someone volunteered, she invited him or her to pick up the old iron, which she explained represented the older iron therapy, and place it on the ironing-board graphic near the cradled irons. Then she asked the player to slide the iron the entire 6-foot length of the ironing board from tip to tip, just as if he or she were ironing a white lab coat.

But it wasn't as simple as steam and press - the attendee struggled to move the heavy iron, which seemed to fight every inch. As the crowd watched the battle, the hostess said, "It is taking you a long time to finish the task, isn't it? That is because older injections take hours and hours to administer." As the attendee attempted to move the recalcitrant iron, the red lights on the screen lit up, which the hostess explained demonstrated iron levels above the target range - a serious safety issue for patients.

What she didn't mention was the fact that the two competitor irons and the ironing board itself had been equipped with super magnets. When a game participant took either of those irons from their cradles, the action triggered the magnets, which turned the seemingly simple prospect of pushing an iron across the playing surface into a practically impossible feat.

When the attendee gave up on the antique iron, the hostess asked him or her to try the travel iron, which she said represented modern iron therapies. The participant's efforts were met with resistance once again, and the yellow lights lit up, showing a score below the target zone, an efficacy problem, according to the hostess. As the attendee fought to move the iron to the target zone, the hostess said, "You're having a difficult time aren't you? Imagine how difficult it is for your patient with injections that come only in small doses. They either have to keep coming back for more injections, or they still feel lethargic."

Next, the hostess asked the participant to try the Ferinject iron. The attendee quickly found sliding the red-and-purple iron to the target zone to be as easy as scrawling a signature on a prescription pad. The comparable ease with which the Ferinject iron moved often surprised the participant. Expecting resistance after the first two irons, the attendee's Herculean efforts meant the red-and-purple iron, and the player, nearly flew to the tip of the board, often eliciting chuckles from aisle-side onlookers.

Moving the Ferinject iron into the target zone prompted the column of green lights to glow, while the screen displayed the text: "Congratulations You Filled the Iron Stores Optimally." While many attendees broke into applause, others clamored for the chance to give the game a try.

The hostess thanked the attendee who had just finished the game and suggested he or she, along with the rest of the attendees who watched the action, step further into the exhibit to learn more about the product and collect a branded USB drive containing educational materials about Ferinject.

The Target Zone

By the last day of the show, Vifor distributed its branded USB drives to approximately 1,800 physician attendees who stopped to check out the Fabulous Iron Game and took a tour of the Ferinject exhibit - a whopping 26 percent of the doctors in attendance.

"This game did everything a traffic builder should do. It's relevant; it's entertaining; it's educational. And it got people engaged with Ferinject," said one Sizzle Awards judge.

When the show came to a close, Vifor's game concept and execution proved to be just what the doctor ordered, according to Kevin Padden, executive director of meeting and communication strategies at Impact Unlimited. "We heard feedback from quite a few physician attendees that they felt this simple metaphor helped them understand Ferinject and place it in a useful context vis--vis the competitive options," Padden says. "For a new product with a different approach to addressing an existing condition, that represents an enormous success." E

Janet Van Vleet, contributing writer; editorial@exhibitormagazine.com

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