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It’s-a-me, marketing: Insulet taps Nintendo amid Omnipod 5 launch

Nintendo’s Animal Crossing game is getting a marketing makeover with a new diabetes-themed island designed by Insulet.

Gamification has long been held as a major goal in marketing but has remained largely latent in life sciences campaigns.

Now, diabetes charities are teaming up with medtech company Insulet to “bring diabetes representation” to the popular Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing and, in so doing, take gamification to the next level.

Specifically, the pair helped create a new diabetes-themed island, known as Omnipod Bay, which users can add via a new code. Omnipod Bay features booths from selected diabetes charities as well as inclusive outfits and diabetes-themed areas and activities.

The Omnipod moniker isn’t a cute Nintendo creation, but is, in fact, the name of Insulet’s insulin pump system.

The game add-on comes just two weeks after Insulet’s latest insulin system, known as Omnipod 5, was cleared by the FDA. Omnipod 5 is an automatic insulin delivery device that includes smartphone controls. It allows users to automatically adjust insulin and help protect against blood sugar highs and lows.

Insulet created the island to be an “inclusive, family-friendly destination where players of all ages can see their T1D experiences reflected in the game,” the company said in a statement.

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Players can also download 15 in-game outfits that include insulin pumps and diabetes supply bags—which Insulet also makes—to create characters that look like them and destigmatize diabetes technology.

“My brother and I both live with T1D, and we grew up playing video games. If we’d seen this type of diabetes representation in a game as kids, it would have meant so much,” said JDRF International CEO Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D.

On Omnipod Bay, players can complete an obstacle maze to gain access to a secret lounge, walk the runway in their new diabetes-ready outfits, perform in a concert, snap selfies in locales sprinkled with diabetes in-jokes, and piece together a hidden code to win an in-game prize.

JDRF Diabetes Foundation and three other diabetes groups—namely Beyond Type 1, Children with Diabetes, and Kyler Cares Foundation—also have booths on the island, plus custom shirts and hats available for download.

“Representation of people with diabetes is important to us, so we looked for an opportunity to make diabetes part of everyday culture,” added Lei Mercado, Chief Marketing Officer of Insulet Corporation.

“We worked closely with the diabetes community, leading advocacy groups, and gamers to see how we could educate others. Our hope is that the Animal Crossing integration will help people with diabetes feel more included, connected, and seen in a fun and engaging way.”

Insulet has since 2020 been using the more traditional marketing vehicle of TV commercials for the Omnipod range, spending millions of dollars across multiple spots targeted at Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients. This is a new marketing vehicle for the company, and one that may well bump up awareness of its tech.

RELATED: Training break: Pharma companies get into gaming to boost retention, recall—and fun

Insulet told Fierce Pharma Marketing that the goal was to “better represent people with diabetes in everyday culture.” A spokesperson added: “There is no set return on investment. Our goal is to simplify life for people with diabetes, and that includes helping to make it more represented in society and culture. We felt gaming was a fun and engaging way to connect to the community and beyond.”

JDRF is hoping for greater awareness from the game, but also cash: The launch event was streamed live on Feb. 17 and the organization was asking for viewers to donate to its $15,000 fundraising goal.

The gamification trend

Pharma has made marketing gamification attempts in the past, but exactly how well this plays to the audience as gamers—and as a marketing vehicle—has never been clear.

It’s been 10 years since German pharma Boehringer Ingelheim launched the first social pharma game, known as Syrum.

Syrum, now long defunct, was a simulator of the pharma industry’s drug development process. The game was very similar to Zynga’s popular Facebook game Farmville, but swapped farms and crops for laboratories and molecules.

For Boehringer, the plan was to use Syrum as a vehicle for some of Boehringer’s disease awareness campaigns, which at the time were “Drive COPD” and “1 Million 1 Stroke,” but the game petered out not long after launch.

The social aspect of that game was key for its creator and former Boehringer staffer John Pugh (I interviewed him at the game’s launch at the London Science Museum at the time), and that is clearly what Insulet is hoping for here, too.

Inclusivity is also a major aspect: Having a chronic disease and needing certain medications or medical technology on you can feel isolating. Using a game to represent your community could help you feel more included.

Whether this can translate into more sales for Insulet’s products is a harder prediction to make, but clearly it’s easier to tap into an existing and very popular game rather than to create your own from scratch and try to build a new user base.

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