The narrative surrounding multiple sclerosis (MS) has long focused on white women, excluding the stories of Black Americans, who are actually at higher risk of developing MS than previously thought, with potentially more aggressive disease course, severe initial symptoms and faster disease progression. Although many initiatives educate the public about MS and its treatment options, there was an unmet need to elevate the Black MS patient voice, build awareness about MS within this community and empower Black Americans to learn about MS and take action.
Janssen helped address this need through the More to MS campaign, which educates and empowers all members of the MS community to feel supported and seen. We created resources that address the range of MS symptoms and topics that matter most to the community, elevating diverse voices to increase representation. As part of this campaign, Janssen sponsored the Living Well With MS: A Guide for Black Americans documentary and PSA – in collaboration with the National MS Society – which launched in early 2021 and continues to engage the MS community.
That documentary became the launch pad for storytelling about the Black MS experience, and at the center is MS advocate, poet, public speaker and DEI expert Azure Antoinette. Her lived experience comes to life across digital mediums – from Instagram Live events to behind-the-scenes social videos – to authentically show what it’s really like to live with MS as a Black woman, reaching a breadth of engaged followers within the MS community and beyond.
After about 5 years of doctor appointments and misdiagnosis, Azure was finally diagnosed with MS 14 years ago. At the time, there was limited information available, especially for people who looked like her. This experience is all too familiar for many people living with MS, which is called the “great masquerader” and notoriously challenging to diagnose. As a young, uninsured Black woman, Azure faced even more barriers. She felt like doctors were not taking her symptoms seriously and often dismissing her for lesser diagnoses like seasonal allergies. And there was a stigma within her community driven by a lack of awareness around this invisible disease, with people telling her — “but you don’t look sick.” These barriers led to a delay in diagnosis, seeking medical care and, ultimately, starting treatment — all realities that the broader Black MS community can relate to. Through her work with More to MS, Azure has been focused on empowering the community to speak up and advocate for themselves, and to take charge of their health.
In 2020, Azure became the spokesperson for Janssen’s More to MS campaign and began directly changing the perception of — and conversation around — what a “typical” MS patient looks like. Azure, together with MS specialists, experts and other MS Warriors, began hosting unfiltered, real conversations on social media around the daily challenges of living with MS. She also created a steady stream of content addressing topics patients care about most, leveraging her social media channels to reach her followers and others living with the disease in unexpected channels and ways. Key examples include a World Mental Health Day video (October 2021) and two Instagram Live events – one for MS Awareness Month (March 2022) and one focused on nutrition and actionable tips to improve overall health and wellness (December 2021).
More broadly, Azure’s story and relatable experiences have effectively engaged her social media following and other members of the MS community who are active on social media, inspiring hope, generating camaraderie, and directing this new and engaged audience toward educational resources like MoretoMS.com. These activations on social media spanned paid and organic content across multiple campaigns like the MS Awareness Month Instagram Live event and the World Mental Health Day video, overall delivering high levels of positive engagement. Not only has there been more traffic directed to the More to MS website through social, but the heartfelt commentary in response to content and events shows the real impact these activations have had on the MS community.
Azure’s story has helped generate important dialogue and action among Black patients, as evidenced through qualitative and quantitative metrics. Since August 2021, Azure’s social media content focused on the Black MS experience and hot topics in the MS community has received 70K+ engagements. Her content drove significant traffic to MoretoMS.com, with visitors spending 46% longer on the website than the average user, indicating that she reaches a captive audience interested in MS resources. Additionally, the click-through-rate on her content was 52% more effective at driving traffic to MoretoMS.com than Janssen social channels, showing that she’s engaging and moving the audience to learn more.
Azure also drove significant engagement within the MS community via the campaign’s broader partnership with The Mighty — a patient community offering education and dialogue surrounding health challenges. In fact, the World Mental Health Day video featured on The Mighty has received over 278.2K views since October 2021.
Not only has Azure’s content inspired genuine engagement from a new audience, but the feedback also shows More to MS' real connection to the community:
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