In 2002, as Bayer Diagnostics was preparing to re-launch its diabetes portfolio including monitors, strips and services, under the new Ascensia banner, it charged the Chandler Chicco Agency with the challenge of getting worldwide media attention for what was, when all was said and done, a rebranding of the household name “glucometer” business – first launched 31 years earlier.
Certainly in those 31 years there had been a paradigm shift in diabetes care, from physician dominated paternalism to patient-centered self-monitoring and self-care, and that shift toward self-management offered CCA an amazing opportunity to rename a classic but dated moniker in the diabetes marketplace. The new name Ascensia, inspired by the definition to ascend and achieve, would put a new self-directed focus on diabetes self-management. The portfolio’s new tag line, Your Life. Your Way., summed up this new approach.
But, in a chronic disease category like diabetes, the self-management story had been told and retold. So what, CCA wondered, could be used to create real excitement for this line of glucose monitors and test strips? How could the Ascensia name get into news stories in the likes of The New York Times and USA Today? How could CCA get fresh ink and broadcast coverage – worldwide – for the critical self-management/self-monitoring story? And then, just as the question was asked, John Dennis, a Canadian real estate executive and sailor with an “impossible dream,” came to Bayer for help. Would Bayer, John asked, sponsor him in “Around Alone,” the world’s premiere single-handed global sailing race, a grueling, life-threatening trek across 28,000 miles of ocean from Newport, RI, to Britain, Spain, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, and back to Newport.
This, CCA told Bayer, was it – the peg on which to hang the Ascensia brand, the mast from which to fly the Ascensia flag: John Dennis would be the Ascensia diabetes ambassador to the world, the inspiration for what was named the The Ascensia Dream Fund – an international competition in which Bayer and a multidisciplinary diabetes advisory panel will chose one or more persons living with diabetes who has a dream that would not be possible unless he/she is able to control the disease through active self-monitoring and management. For those selected, Bayer will make it possible for them to fulfill their dreams.
In seeking Bayer’s sponsorship in Around Alone, John Dennis truly was seeking to fulfill a life-long dream – a dream that first grabbed hold of his imagination when, at the age of 14, he read Joshua Slocum’s classic “Sailing Alone Around the World” and told his father as the two of them were sailing together outside Halifax Harbor, “I’m going to do that someday!”
Further, John was perfect for this role because his diagnosis with type 2 diabetes eight years earlier had nearly put an end to his single-handed sailing and his dream of circumnavigating the globe. Ignoring physicians who told him he would never again sail competitively, John tackled the self-management of his diabetes with a ferocious single-mindedness using self-monitoring as a cornerstone, maintaining his health and controlling his diabetes to the point where he was unquestionably physically-fit for such a staggeringly difficult undertaking as his lifelong dream - Around Alone.
The strategy to put Ascensia on the map – literally in a global capacity – was to use John Dennis, a compelling real person role model spokesman for the self-monitoring and self-management message. As a diabetes ambassador sailing around the globe, John would canvas the international diabetes community conveying the importance of self-monitoring as he made pre-planned stops in key markets.
After establishing The Ascensia Dream Fund, with the motto “Your Life. Your Dream.” multi-tier tactics were developed to introduce John Dennis and his historic entrance into Around Alone as the first person with diabetes to ever attempt a single-handed circumnavigation of the globe. These historic firsts would not end with his sheer acceptance, but would continue as he became the first person with diabetes to cross the Atlantic in a single handed sail and to reach every port thereafter.
John’s entry into the race would be used to draw attention to The Ascensia Dream Fund, while simultaneously supporting the brand launch at an international level. By telling John’s personal story of triumph over adversity, CCA knew it could catch the attention of the healthcare and general medical media, and extend the reach of this key message to audiences traditionally outside the healthcare category, including general media at large and the sailing/yachting and disabled communities.
Phase I seeded the non-traditional racing community with John’s story, priming them that if he were to qualify for Around Alone, he would be the first person with diabetes to be accepted into this historic race. When the announcement was made that John, a man with type 2 diabetes, was entering Around Alone, the sailing community reporters, traditionally fixated on the potential winners, immediately embraced John and saw his story as unique. The trigger for this event was a safety test the Around Alone race requires, in which every skipper is forced to “roll their boat over” and re-right it single-handedly.
Phase II introduced the Ascensia brand name and The Ascensia Dream Fund in key professional US venues that reached the diabetes community and trade media, as well as teased consumer media with the Ascensia brand promise and self-management messages.
To do this an Ascensia Dream Fund showcase booth was launched on the AADE floor, which included a video documentary, patient postcards, a dream Log Book for John Dennis to carry around the world, a SONY Dream Machine raffle, and sailboat booth promos.
A U.S. release went over the wire with associated media outreach.
Phase III introduced both the Ascensia portfolio name and The Ascensia Dream Fund internationally, reaching the diabetes community and trade media with the Ascensia messages.
To do this an Ascensia Dream Fund showcase booth was launched on the EASD floor, which included the following the video documentary, dream Log Book, and sailboat booth promos.
An international release went over the European medical circuit wire.
 Phase IV introduced international consumer media to the campaign’s key messages and sounded a call-to-action for The Ascensia Dream Fund in the days leading up to and including the race start (September 15th). Efforts were focused on building media interest in John’s story at a national and NY based broadcast, print, and sporting media (i.e. ESPN radio) level.
To maximize John’s global exposure and message, each race leg stop served as an opportunity to partner with third-parties, diabetes thought leaders, physicians and patients, customizing John’s story. At each race stop, the level of diabetes versus self-monitoring versus Ascensia messages was balanced based on diabetes prevalence in respective markets.
Motivational speaking engagements and local media outreach were arranged for John in each market, allowing him to share his story with diabetes groups and disabled persons in Torbay, UK and Cape Town, South Africa. These key customizations were critical as the disease state differs internationally. For example, while in the UK monitoring was a core message, in South Africa, the diabetes condition message became more relevant, as it is swiftly rising in importance behind HIV and TB as a national health concern.
Unfortunately, John had major, potentially life-threatening systems failures on his boat while crossing the Indian Ocean and had to retire from the race during the Cape Town, South Africa to Tauranga, New Zealand leg. But, rather than let technical issues diminish his achievements and the campaign itself, Bayer, CCA and John have decided not to let diabetes nor technical issues limit his lifelong dream, nor minimize his historic accomplishments as the first person with diabetes to ever circumnavigate half the globe in Around Alone.
So, John’s journey will continue. As John proved such an inspiration for people with diabetes all over the globe, in the new year 2003, John Dennis will have a new role on behalf of Ascensia, becoming a global ambassador for the diabetes community. Even though he has officially retired from the race, Around Alone has granted John “ambassador” status (a first for the race), allowing him to make a non-official ceremonial sail, completing the last leg of the race from Salvador, Brasil to Newport, Rhode Island in the spring.
CCA will continue to highlight John’s heroic journey on behalf of the diabetes community, arranging motivational speaking engagements and conducting media outreach in Salvador in March and in the U.S. upon his return in May. Throughout the spring and summer, John will continue spreading his message on self-monitoring and active diabetes management at all major diabetes venues, encouraging others with diabetes to share their dreams with Bayer through The Ascensia Dream Fund 2003.
CCA has also developed a website (, toll-free number (1-800-332-3210) and print collateral materials to enable the call-to-action for The Ascensia Dream Fund.