Interstitial lung diseases (ILD) are a group of rare lung diseases marked by scarring and inflammation. The most common ILD is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), which affects nearly 200,000 patients in the U.S. each year. However, misdiagnosis rates for ILD remain as high as 50% because the most common symptom – breathlessness — is easily confused for other conditions like COPD, congestive heart failure and asthma. To help increase awareness of ILD and the telltale symptoms, Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) and Ogilvy launched “Breathless,” a multi-year disease education initiative championed by New York Yankees legend and Latin Grammy-nominated musician Bernie Williams, who lost his dad to IPF in 2001.
Since its inception in 2017, Breathless has evolved to find new ways to leverage Bernie’s iconic status and personal story to connect ILD patients and caregivers.
In 2021, it was more important than ever to find a way to continue spreading awareness and connecting with members of the ILD community who were at increased risk of serious illness during the pandemic. Ultimately, we took inspiration from our spokesperson’s passion for music to launch the Breathless Ballad Challenge, which underscored the universal power of music as part of the ILD patient and caregiver journey.
Our goals for the Breathless Ballad Challenge were twofold: to raise awareness for and elevate the visibility of ILDs, and to generate excitement and crowdsource content to create a one-of-a-kind musical tribute.
Ogilvy and BI were challenged with parlaying the success of past Breathless executions into a new program for 2021—not an easy task given the limitations on in-person events that had become a hallmark of the Breathless campaign due to COVID. This, coupled with the fact that ILD is not widely covered by mainstream media, presented a unique challenge for the BI and Ogilvy teams.
To ensure the campaign’s success, we needed to reimagine it in a digital format to reach our patient and caregiver audiences online. Success was dependent on online audiences continuing to feel a part of the campaign. With this in mind, BI and Ogilvy were mindful about creating moments that would keep participants engaged. We knew that meant continuing to leverage our spokesperson Bernie Williams’ identity as an IPF caregiver and celebrity to attract media interest.
Bernie has been vocal about the important role that music played in helping him cope after the loss of his father to IPF, having released the instrumental track “Para Don Berna” in his father’s memory in 2003. The song offered a meaningful foundation on which to build the Breathless Ballad Challenge. We kicked off the Challenge on social media with a call for entries, asking participants to submit lyrics that could be paired with “Para Don Berna” to create a musical tribute.
In an effort to ensure the campaign remained fresh, we also wanted to pair Bernie with new celebrity talent to capture additional national media attention. To incentivize participation, the winning lyrics would be brought to life courtesy of vocalist Jordin Sparks.
While the Challenge was launched to raise awareness of ILD, participants didn’t need a personal connection to ILD in order to submit lyrics. Instead, guidelines required caregivers to write about a hero in their own life. Over the course of the campaign, the Challenge received 75+ submissions.
Our winning lyrics, penned by David DePinho in honor of his late mother, were selected based on votes from BI’s online audience as well as a celebrity judging panel—including Queen Latifah and Arthur Hanlon. Bernie and Jordin collaborated in-studio to record the new lyrics with Bernie’s musical composition and film a moving music video.
In December 2021, Williams and Sparks appeared on Good Morning America to exclusively premiere “Breath of Life (Para Don Berna)” and talk about raising awareness for ILDs through their work with BI. GMA shared the video on their social channels to 250K+ followers.
Creating awareness of IPF to decrease misdiagnoses and help promote early treatment is a long-term commitment and we believe music can continue to play a powerful role in educating and engaging audiences.