Three scenarios lead to a powerful, third party celebrity endorsement that emotionally connects consumers to pharma brands.
The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most strictly regulated businesses, especially when it comes to advertising. It’s no secret that pharma has been hit with billions of dollars of fines, (over $13 billion in the last 5 years) stemming from misleading advertising mostly around ‘off-label’ claims.
An off-label claim is when a brand markets an FDA approved drug for an unapproved use (ex: using an antipsychotic medication for an eating disorder, or an anti-seizure drug to help combat alcoholism).
FDA restrictions can limit the pharmaceutical industries ability to be brand creative for fear of promoting anything not specifically ‘on-label’.
A powerful tool that pharmaceutical companies can utilize to emotionally connect with their target audience is the right celebrity endorsement.
This gives any pharmaceutical related endorsement credibility, because a celebrity not only has to be taking the product, but must be satisfied with the results.
Finding the right celebrity
Choosing the right celebrity can be challenging. They may or may not want to go public with their medical history and treatment. Some celebrities may be more comfortable in unbranded content that covers issues relating to a condition… There can also be some trepidation on the brand side.
Surprisingly, a detailed google search coupled with outreach to non-profits and/or associations who advocate for the condition can unearth some of the potential celebrities. Working with a third party celebrity expert can yield more choices and cover all bases.
Talent identification and vetting for a pharma brand is totally different than a traditional consumer or even over-the-counter (OTC) product.
Frito Lay, for example, can be less cautious when choosing celebrity endorsers for any one of its Doritos flavors, because they can pivot between different products and advertisements so easily. Pharma brands aren’t as nimble.
Pharma brands also need to negotiate unique arrangements for their celebrity, such as attending seminars, conferences, and other public relations events for medical professionals. There is some training that goes into preparing the celebrity for these events, and it needs to be accounted for in the initial negotiations and SOW.
There are typically three scenarios where a celebrity can be utilized as an endorser:
Best Case Scenario
The celebrity has publically or privately acknowledged having a certain ailment, and has revealed that they take your companies medication. If they have shown a willingness to do advertising before, approach them with an offer to be the face of your advertising campaign.
In these instances, a pharma brand may not have even considered using talent, but this revelation has sparked interest to capitalize.
Hasn’t Been Prescribed Medication Yet
In some instances, information may be available that a celebrity has been diagnosed (or is seeking help) with a particular medical condition. In this instance, medication has not yet been prescribed.
There is some risk involved, depending on the type of medication being prescribed. If the medication isn’t successful, or causes severe side effects, it could reflect poorly on the product if word gets out, so carefully craft your offer letter preserving privacy.
Willing to Switch Medications
Another scenario is if a celebrity has an ailment, is currently taking medication, but is willing to switch to a different product due to side effects or lack luster results.
There are other situations that can also come into play such as use of a celebrity family member.
In each scenario, the celebrity’s medical doctor would be engaged in the process. There can be a preliminary conversation with the brand’s medical team and the celebrity and his or her doctor. Furthermore, push for a call with the celebrity to personally gauge level of commitment to the endorsement.
In most cases, pharma companies do not want to be perceived as paying a celebrity to be on the product. This is not as much of a challenge for scenario number one above. Working with a talent procurement company that is experienced in these matters is essential to finding an organic candidate.
In all cases, a celebrity would need to be taking the specific medication (for the on-label use) for a period of time AND achieve the desired results.