Marketing to People with Chronic Illness: What Companies Are Doing Right–and Very Wrong.

I can be bought. I’m a big buyer of stuff.

Sunday night? Sounds like a good night to judge everything and everyone.

Sunday night? Sounds like a good night to judge everything and everyone.

Things. Books. Medications. Food. Sports drinks. Tank tops. Dog toys.

And I like to think that, as someone with a background in the marketing industry, I can see the value in good advertising–and the bullshit in bad.

You may have noticed that I also do a lot of thinking about what makes life with chronic illness bearable, unbearable, or just different from how others live.

I’ve also spent a lot of hours in doctor’s offices watching health channels and reading disease-based magazines.

And along the way I’ve noticed some of the highs and lows of marketing to people with chronic illnesses.

For instance, here’s a high:

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Novartis’s Gilenya–“Take This”

Novartis’s new drug, “Gilenya” for patients with MS has a great TV spot that caught my attention the other day. The commercial shows multiple, young patients who looks strong and empowered. Their tag line, “Take this!” stands for both taking the medication and fighting back against their disease. The spot even goes so far as to call MS a “bully” and pulls the viewer out of the idea that they are a victim (none of them look like depressed, hopeless patients to me) or alone “join the thousands of patients already taking…”

I actually laughed when I saw this commercial. It was such a cold shock in a series of depressing patient ads that it really lifted me up. Don’t you feel good after watching that?

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You know, I don't even have MS but MAYBE I WILL TAKE THIS!

You know, I don’t even have MS but you’ve convinced me to take it.

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But that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Pharma companies and media tend to present life with chronic illness as one giant rain cloud on your life–and hey, sure, sometimes when it rains it pours. I’m just not a big fan of the commercials and advertisements that leave you feeling like your problem is an insurmountable one–where you have to wear grey clothing and be rapidly aging and you’re hunched over and in a hospital gown and your world is beige and melancholy…Introducing the “low”…

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Lyrica’s — “She Can Do It All” Commercial

Cue Lyrica and their bizarre ad for their popular fibromyalgia drug. See, even though the premise of the commercial (capable mom, wife, and business woman goes about her day with the help of the drug) is a pretty sound concept for an ad, the voice over by the actress completely kills it.

I’m sorry, but she sounds like she’s at the mic with a morphine drip.

How is that empowering? I guess the point is to make it feel comforting or relaxing to be on this drug, but I think they should be going in the opposite direction. People with chronic fatigue and fibro aren’t taking Lyrica to relax themselves–they’re taking it to (actually do what the commercial is showing) to get through their daily lives without crushing pain.

Maybe they should go with something a little more upbeat next time? Maybe the patient could be a little more aggressive in her search for energy and her goal of a pain-free life. She could be all like…

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FUCK YOU FIBRO! I'M GETTING MY 401K!

FUCK YOU FIBRO! I’M GETTING MY 401K!

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Anyways.

Then there are the ad spots that just leave me feeling very….

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WTF

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Like this one that popped up the other day on a popular health site:

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No shit Sherlock

Oh, thanks. That’s enlightening.

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No shit, Sherlock.  God, if I’d only known that, I wouldn’t live like a vampire, constantly shutting out the day light and standing, abused and battered with a baseball bat, in front of my lamp. People with migraines don’t have time for this shit.

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Preach, Selena.

Preach, Selena.

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One company that I’ve always felt has been spot-on is Humira. They have a general layout to their commercials which include patient has a problem, patient gets prescribed Humira, patient’s problem starts to get better (slowly.) I like their commercials because they show a very human element of living with chronic disease–the shame of feeling different, the loneliness of missing out on events because of symptoms, and the reality that we have to take charge of our treatment in order to get the best possible outcome. Even though they start out kind of depressing, I think they do leave patients feeling empowered.

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Sanofi also gets a good grade when it comes to advertising. For instance their “Diabetes–Commitment to Improvement” commercial is both informal and empowering, highlighting their work globally with patients on every end of the financial spectrum

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Seen a chronic health ad that’s caught your attention lately? Add your two cents below!

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