Celebrity Spokespeople: A Double-Edged Sword

June 25, 2013
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(Editor’s note: This post is from our latest member of the HealthWorks Collective Advisory Board, Mr David Davidovic.  We thoroughly thank David for this exclusive post!)

(Editor’s note: This post is from our latest member of the HealthWorks Collective Advisory Board, Mr David Davidovic.  We thoroughly thank David for this exclusive post!)

celebrity health spokespersonWe are all familiar with one celebrity or another being signed up to – usually – long term contracts to sell or endorse products and services.  Sometimes they are blatant sales pitches like those ‘been there’ actors hawking long-term insurance on late night TV or former boxers selling grills named after them.   Other times, celebrities implicitly profess their preference for a brand of product, think Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan.  And other times, they simply endorse or lend their name for causes, many of them health-oriented; examples are Katie Couric in colon cancer campaigns, Michael J. Fox as an advocate Parkinson’s research, or Sally Field for Boniva and osteoporosis.

Proponents believe these endorsements, and their ecosystems, have been very important in terms of disease awareness and patient education, bringing tangible benefits and positive outcomes.  These endorsements have also drawn scrutiny from the FDA for their potential for off-label communications, and from industry critics in terms of inappropriate influence and wasteful spending.

Celebrity endorsements can backfire, however.  We have seen many cases of celebrities behaving badly from Tiger Woods, to quarterback Michael Vick, to Lindsay Lohan to Lance Armstrong.  And now, we have the case of Paula Deen. 

Recall that last year Ms. Deen announced that she had been suffering Type 2 Diabetes; at the same time Novo Nordisk signed her up as a spokesperson for their diabetes campaigns.  Somehow, at the time, the controversy regarding the apparent conflict between her fat-laden recipes and the campaign’s call for healthy eating habits dissipated and moved to the back-burner. 

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Not sure the current storm will blow away any time soon.  The Food Network already dropped her show.  Should and will Novo Nordisk end (or not renew) her contract too? 

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