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Case study: The truth about weight-loss surgery

Challenging online opinions about weight-loss surgery via the Heart on My Sleeve campaign

Published: 11 Jan 2012

Heart on My Sleeve was the first integrated, multi-channel, social media campaign for weight-loss surgery.

Client: Ethicon Endo-Surgery

Agency: Porter Novelli, Tribal DDB

Campaign: Heart on My Sleeve: challenging online opinions about weight-loss surgery

Timescale: March to October, 2011

A quick look

The agency team’s task was to engage individuals affected physically and emotionally by obesity and move them from thinking about weight-loss surgery to taking action. The objectives were to educate individuals affected by obesity about different types of bariatric surgery and to introduce the REALIZE Solution® to influential third parties. A key component of the campaign was to find a patient role model who would appeal to, and represent, this demographic and provide the support and online presence they were looking for. The campaign needed to reach patients where they are, with a focus on online and blogger outreach, and make it easy for patients to find help locally through online tools.


The media is saturated with obesity stories and weight-loss information. Ethicon Endo-Surgery (a Johnson & Johnson company) tasked Porter Novelli and Tribal DDB with developing a campaign to highlight weight -loss (bariatric) surgery, specifically the REALIZE Solution® – the only weight-loss surgery program that supports all major bariatric procedures.

The media often depicts bariatric surgery negatively, even though it is a proven, effective option that not only helps people achieve dramatic weight loss but also has a significant impact on obesity-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Further, when performed at a Center of Excellence, bariatric surgery is actually as safe as, or safer than, many commonly performed procedures, such as gall bladder removal.


The agency team proposed a multi-component, cross-discipline plan with a strong focus on online communications, to move eligible consumers from thinking about weight-loss surgery to taking action. Through extensive research, the team confirmed that the social space was the ultimate destination for consumers to educate and support one another on their journey. In fact, a person considering weight-loss surgery spends up to three years doing online research. The campaign hinged on three core tactics:

Heart on My Sleeve: This initiative was so named because a patient called Tracy was undergoing the REALIZE sleeve gastrectomy and wanted to share her story. The team worked with her to develop her blog, and a corresponding YouTube channel. Facebook, Twitter,, health sites, Hulu and Google provided easy access to her story.

The Obesity Online Blogger Forum: A one-day forum for influential bloggers was run in partnership with the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), a nonprofit organization. It included a reception to enable networking, an educational session, an introduction to the Heart on My Sleeve initiative, and a value-add session, ‘maximizing your online voice’.

An Online Q&A session: This gave patients considering surgery access to a renowned surgeon during a two-hour session hosted by the OAC’s president on a specially created domain within the OAC’s website. Journalists and bloggers were invited to participate, with Tracy as the media spokesperson. The session included a click-through to the brand website for consumers to sign up for a seminar on bariatric surgery.


The campaign increased the REALIZE Solution’s share-of-voice from 2 percent in Q1 to a stunning 22% in Q2, with 100 percent positive/neutral tone. The Heart on My Sleeve initiative was a huge success, with 200,000+ blog visitors, 12,000+ video streams, and 19,500+ Facebook fans on the Facebook page which averages 15 original posts and 20-25 comments per day. The campaign created ambassadors among online influencers who had not previously known about the brand and generated 20 percent of total surgeon locator leads in July.

Client verdict

The client team is proud to have launched the first integrated, multi-channel, social media campaign in weight-loss surgery history, which has educated thousands of women affected by obesity about their options. The partnership with OAC for elements of the initiative has been extremely productive and the organization has indicated the potential for extended partnership for future programs.

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