If you aren’t privy to the controversy surrounding celebrity chef Paula Deen’s recent announcement that she not only has type 2 diabetes—but that she is also the new spokesperson for a diabetes medication called Victoza—I am truly surprised as to how you wound up at this blog posting.
Basically, you’ll find both criticism and support all over the Internet from fellow chefs, healthcare providers, and concerned people.
One perspective you won’t find much of is toward the drug company that hired her, prompting her to “come out” with her condition. This is both curious and disappointing.
The pharmaceutical industry has historically been painted as a profit-driven, insensitive villain—a credibility crisis that has, only in recent years, been somewhat softened through the tireless efforts to provide authentic support and advocacy for patients and healthcare providers through funding for research, education, and community development.
I recently read an article that summed the Deen situation up with the words “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” in terms of her (however slight) change of branding, and promotion for Victoza. Maybe this is true in other categories…is it true in pharma?
I’ll bet that fellow drug marketers are still trying to figure out how this can be interpreted as a good thing—how hiring a celebrity chef who would be attacked for her decision to “sell out” and be a spokesperson (c’mon, who wouldn’t have seen it coming) can cast a light that is anything but negative for the pharmaceutical industry. Perhaps some market conditioning could have prevented all this backlash.
Apparently, when Novo Nordisk contacted Deen, they did not know she was diabetic—they merely asked for lighter recipes for their “Diabetes in a new light” initiative. But when she responded with “how did y’all know I had diabetes?” their choice of partners (or at least their timing with Deen) might have been reassessed.
With several successful diabetes products on the market, Novo Nordisk is already a well-known name in diabetes care. So are they really worried about product awareness?
Or could this be a master plan to stir up awareness for the disease-state itself, which could be prevented with the right lifestyle choices?
Mmmmaybe. But in the midst of such controversy, no one seems to be making that connection—and it isn’t doing any favors for the reputation of the industry as a whole.
As for Paula, she’ll be fine. After all the dust settles and the news is no longer sensational, she will have lost some followers who find her hypocrisy and irresponsibility distasteful, but she will have gained new ones, namely among the millions of Americans with type 2 diabetes who can relate, as well as those who previously dismissed her because of the unhealthy nature of her otherwise delicious comfort-food recipes. For this, the publicity is necessary for awareness.
As drug marketers, we need to create a sense of advocacy and support for patients, healthcare providers, and their respective disease states. Simply put, the pharmaceutical industry has been trying to earn as much good publicity as possible. So we have to wonder, is this one step forward or two steps back?