Selecting The Wrong Spokesperson Can Intercept Your Campaign

It’s not unusual for pharmaceutical companies to select a celebrity as their spokesperson for their blockbuster drugs.  And it seems to make even more sense when the spokesperson has something in common with the disease state.  For example, Magic Johnson made commercials and appeared in many venues on behalf of Abbott Laboratories’ Kaletra drug for the treatment of HIV.  Sally Field is the spokesperson for Boniva, a drug made by Roche Therapeutics for osteoporosis. And rumor has it the success of the Boniva product has been largely attributed to Sally Field and the direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads.  No matter how you feel about them, DTC is here to stay.

Not only do pharmaceutical companies use spokespersons to promote their drugs, they also use them for charitable campaigns.  But how do you select a spokesperson for your campaign and when do you decide to move on to a new person, without the influence of the FDA of course?  For example, if I were Lilly I would be doing lots of market research to understand if my campaign “touchdowns for diabetes” is really a success.  It works like this…they partnered with an NFL quarterback and every time he scores a touchdown they provide a scholarship to allow a child to attend an American Diabetes Association summer camp for one week.  Sounds like a great initiative.  They even took out a half page ad in the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Magazine to advertise this campaign.  I would assume the goal would be to sponsor as many kids as possible, the more touchdowns scored, the more Lilly is mentioned as a sponsor, etc.

Well, I don’t mean to be a Monday morning quarterback, but so far this year only 17 kids will receive a scholarship, because unfortunately, Lilly selected Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears to be their partner for this campaign.  Probably a good selection for their diabetes franchise as Jay Cutler has Type I diabetes.  But what were they thinking beyond that?  And why would Lilly who is headquartered in Indianapolis bypass the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning, who has 25 touchdowns so far this year. Plus the Colts are undefeated which means they will most likely be in the playoffs, making their season longer and providing the potential for even more touchdowns. 

Direct-to-consumer advertising with celebrities can be tricky in the healthcare space.  You really have to be careful about who you select to represent your drugs.  You’re not selling Hot Wheels, Barbie dolls or an XBOX, you are providing education to the general public on diseases and treatment alternatives that can help save lives.  Your message should be clear, the spokesperson credible and someone that can help you reach as many people as possible for as long as possible.

Lilly, if you really want to live up to your tagline…”The more he scores, the more kids with diabetes we can help…” you might select a better quarterback next year.  If you must use Jay Cutler, maybe you need to include interceptions, now at 20, so at least SOMEBODY might score a touchdown.  Also, by selecting a better team, maybe your campaign might run a little longer into the post season and then you can help more kids with diabetes!

Oh, and by the way, yes, I’m a Bears fan!


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