Friday, February 29, 2008

Jarvik Teaches Us A Lesson

Jarvik Teaches Us A Lesson

Bob Ehrlich, Chairman
DTC Perspectives, Inc.

It is over and done with. Dr. Jarvik is rowing into the sunset or in his case we're watching the stunt double row away. I think Pfizer got a raw deal in all the criticism as I have written previously. No consumer took Lipitor because of Jarvik's scientific or athletic prowess. He may have stimulated some interest in asking for more information about Lipitor but that is about all. Let's give consumers and doctors more credit for their decision making. No consumer was harmed because Jarvik did not practice medicine.

So what should we all take away from Pfizer's decision to pull the campaign? They had to pull it because consumers and physicians were focused on Jarvik's credentials rather than on the product itself. When a celebrity gets in the way of the message it is time to change. The campaign was good, but there are likely plenty of good back-up campaigns for Lipitor at the agency without the celebrity theme. Lipitor did fine since its DTC launch with several non-celebrity campaigns.

Use of a celebrity can be more of a liability than a help. They are always susceptible to both past and future negative news. They cost a lot and most people have little faith in the word of a celebrity endorser. When celebrities are used more as actors that is fine. Sally Field is great for Boniva because she is not acting as an expert, just an aging actress trying to stay strong. Celebrities who are used for medical expertise will be given the full investigative treatment. Jarvik is a lesson that the numerous critics are watching carefully to embarrass the drug marketers.

Pfizer will be given little credit for pulling the campaign. It will be seen by critics as a capitulation to being discovered as misrepresenting the credentials of their spokesperson. The critics will use the Jarvik situation as a reason why DTC misleads the public. I am sure FDA will be very careful in vetting celebrity endorser credentials in the future. Clearly they are under intense pressure to make DTC harder to do. I would expect some additional risk and side effect requirements to be enacted in the future.

I am quite certain Pfizer never secretly intended anyone to believe Jarvik was a renowned heart surgeon. He is what he says he is and no more. That being said, the lesson here is that if consumers may misinterpret the endorser's credentials, then the burden is on drug companies to prevent it. Following the letter of the law is no longer good enough. As aggressive as marketers and their agencies want to be in their claims and creative power, the negative impact of having them misinterpreted is high. The Jarvik case should be studied by all DTC marketers for the lessons and risks of celebrity endorsers.


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ary said...

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