Monday, November 07, 2005

Celebrity endorsement and pharmaceutical marketing

Pharmaceutical companies routinely hire celebrities to attract attention to the latest drugs and the diseases that go with them.
Celebrities become integral to a drug marketing strategy.
Supermodel Lauren Hutton was hired to promote Wyeth’s hormone replacement therapy and menopause. GSK contracted Football star Ricky Williams was paid to create awareness of social anxiety disorder, making Paxil (briefly) the world's top-selling antidepressant.
Celebrities don’t come cheaply - according to celebrity brokers, the star's remuneration package may range from $20,000 to $2 million.
This kind of promotion is part of the drug marketing strategy, normally consisting of paid advertising and aggressive public relations campaigns. It often results in the celebrities' media appearances on Oprah,the Today Show or, as in the case of Former Texas Governor Ann Richards who blatantly promoted one of Lilly’s drugs during an interview, on CNN's Larry King Live.

What are the main rules to enlist a celebrity for product endorsement?

1) Research which A-list celebrity goes down well with the target group
2) Hire an A-list celebrity that the target group considers trustworthy
3) Find a news hook to link the celebrity to the product
4) Develop some simple (marketing) messages
5) Ensure that the celebrity delivers them at every appearance

But especially celebrity endorsement of pharmaceutical product has its downside.
One big problem: the public doesn’t always realize that the celebrity is paid for advocating a cause (and its remedy).
A good example is the promotion of irritable bowel syndrome on top-rating TV shows by Kelsey Grammer (of "Frasier" fame) and his wife. Viewers thought that they were speaking on behalf of an independent foundation. However, GSK, producer of Lotronex (a drug with side effects, including possible death) paid the couple for their endorsement.

There is also a legal aspect to it. When producers state benefits of their products, they have to back it up with hard data. Every advertisement must include warnings about side effects and possible dangers.
Celebrities, who are no experts whatsoever, can emphasize the benefits of a certain drug without the need to point out the downside of its use.
Lauren Hutton stated in magazine articles read by millions of readers: “My No. 1 secret is estrogen.” Nor Hutton, nor the magazine is (legally) obliged to mention possible side effects or dangers.

Even well-meaning celebrities, who are not being paid for their efforts, and fight for a worthy cause, have the cloud to influence health issue debates and policies.
Camilla Parker Bowles chose to make an important public statement about the bone condition osteoporosis at an international conference funded by the pharmaceutical company Lilly. For years, Camilla has been a champion for early intervention and greater use of expensive tests and technologies for the primary prevention of osteoporosis.
By appearing on the Lilly-sponsored conference, she unwittingly promoted biochemical solutions to health care problems. By doing so, the overall health care debate about equitable distribution of health care resources, including non-biochemical ones, was ignored.

And last but not least, pharmaceutical marketing using a celebrity has its own pitfalls:

  1. The campaign may oversell the celebrity and undersell the product. Using an icon might result in high recognition of the person, but no recollection of the product endorsed.
  2. There could be a discrepancy between personality and product. The target audience must believe that the celebrity uses the product for his/her own benefit.
  3. The celebrity should not be associated with too many (similar) products. Once a celebrity is promoting too many products or a similar product, the message becomes too cluttered. As a result, the target audience gets confused about the exact product that the celebrity is promoting.
  4. The product should be legitimate as a stand-alone. Even without any (celebrity) endorsement, the product should be sound, functional, and fitted for its target audience.
  5. The product should meet its expectations. After the media hype, the product should meet all the expectations that the celebrity created.

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