J&J Turns Cameras on Itself

NEW YORK While the rest of the pharmaceutical business worries about what Michael Moore’s new film Sicko will say about them, Johnson & Johnson has decided to make its own movie.

J&J unit Centocor will next week launch an unadvertised documentary in movie theaters about patients with Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

It is hoped the movie will lead patients with these conditions to ask their doctors about Remicade, a treatment for inflammatory disorders involving the immune system.

The move is an unusual one not just because drug makers rarely, if ever, make movies. In addition to being unadvertised, the film does not mention Centocor or Remicade, a company representative said.

And the strategy is a significant change for the brand managers at Centocor. In 2005, they placed $13.5 million in consumer advertising behind the brand, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. But in 2006, that budget dropped to less than $1 million.

Now, without any above-the-line promotion, the company is hoping to attract an audience by encouraging support-group members to attend screenings of the movies, which will be followed by a discussion.

“Crohn’s disease is extremely embarrassing,” said a J&J representative (one symptom is persistent diarrhea), “so not a lot of people talk about it.” The hope is that people whose illnesses are untreated can be spurred to visit their doctors.

The National Psoriasis Foundation and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America are among the patient groups on board with the effort, the rep said.

The movie, Innerstate, will premiere in New York on Wednesday, Feb. 21. On March 17 it will begin a 13-city tour lasting through June.

According to a preview posted on YouTube, the movie follows three patients—a singer and a racecar driver among them—and describes how they came to terms with their conditions. The film is long on shots of rural Americana, with telephone lines snaking over the flatlands, rolling countryside, and long stretches of traffic-free highway.

“It’s easy to give up hope. Every person needs to find out where they are, almost mentally,” says a voiceover from one of the patients. “Then you can start to really begin the journey.”