Monday, June 22, 2009

Novo Nordisk Selectively Copies & Edits Kimball's Tweets

Diabetes patient and racecar driver Charlie Kimball is sponsored by Novo Nordisk's Levemir insulin injection. I've written about the Race with Insulin Twitter account, which supposedly features tweets made by Charlie, in previous posts to this blog (see "Novo Nordisk's Branded (Levemir) Tweet is Sleazy Twitter Spam!" and "Pharma Marketers Should Stop Blaming the FDA for Their Dysfunctional Social Media Marketing Efforts").

In response to a post I made about a branded Levemir tweet made by Charlie via his Race with Insulin account, I received this email message from a personal friend of Charlie's: "I happen to know Charlie ... I think he is a good guy and hate to see him hurt by this incident. I wonder if someone at Novo is adding in the marketing messages ... Charlie made a mistake by letting it go out."

That made me think that perhaps all the Tweets on Race with Insulin were written by Novo Nordisk or their agents. So, I did some research and found out that Charlie has another Twitter account (@charliekimball).

When you compare @charliekimball to @racewithinsulin, you discover a strange parallel universe.
  • @charliekimball has 163 followers (I am one) and follows 31 people
  • @racewithinsulin has 169 followers and follows 0 people
This tells me that the latter account is at best a mirror of the first. In fact, you'll find an almost one-to-one mapping of Tweets between the two. But there are slight differences. Here are some examples:
@charliekimball: "Finished 7th. Made contact with Pippa Mann halfway through after she was a lap or two off the lead. Happy with the result and the points!"
@racewithinsulin: "Finished 7th. Very pleased with the result. It was great racing under the lights! Headed back home to California tomorrow."
@charliekimball: "Getting ready for qualifying. Still really warm and sunny." and "Qualified 8th. Was a good job for my first time here. Racing at dusk tonight-8CST. 115 lap race- watch it live at"
@racewithinsulin: "Qualified 8th. Solid effort for my first time here. It will be a long fun 115 lap race tonight at 8CST."
A few of the @charliekimball tweets never make it over to @racewithinsulin.

These include: "In Denver airport on my way home. No one has ABC and the race on. It's all golf! Bleh." and "Just had a great mountain bike ride. 1 hr. 40mins. 20 miles. 1850 feet ascended. Lots of fun!"

More importantly, some tweets made @racewithinsulin never appeared @charliekmball. The most famous one being the branded Levemir ad: "Headed for Iowa Speedway. Just took Levemir®. For Levemir® (insulin detemir [rDNA origin] injection) prescribing info:"

That was posted 1:54 PM Jun 18th. A few minutes earlier, at 12:47 PM Jun 18th @charliekimball posted "At LAX headed for Iowa. Ready for the race weekend." No mention of Levemir.

It appears that someone is selecting a sample of Charlie's authentic tweets made @charliekimball, editing them, and adding branded messages to them when necessary.

Is this any way for a pharma brand to carry on an authentic conversation?


  1. Anonymous10:03 AM

    Knowing people at Novo (like Craig DeLarge who should be in charge of the digital effort) leads me to believe that a brand manager or PR person is responsible. In any case, I agree with you that Novo should provide more truthful information about this activty. I invite Craig, who is a big proponent of blogging, to respond to this issue.

  2. Normally I cringe when I read hear "authentic conversation" but thanks to your working your way through the posts, "authentic conversation" really is the issue in this case.
    We KNOW that when we see a celebrity endorsement in a magazine that it is mostly contrived. We can spot a TV infomercial a mile away even at 2:00 in the morning.

    But we seem to expect more on sites such as Twitter.
    Maybe it is our own fault in an odd kinda way. We accept paid programming. We know an athlete is paid to endorse his athletic shoes and we know he has a script in front of him when he does the commercial. We also know he is armed with talking points when he heads off into the public arena to do the meet and greet.
    Why should it be any different on Twitter? The posts at least use the whole trademark logo and the background theme is clearly not created by a race car driver. You aren't going to think he happened to fire off a drug mention in a quick Twitter post.
    Twitter is succombing to the same malaise we're finding elsewhere.
    There are ways around every rule and every unwritten code of conduct.
    Can we really blame Novo?

    Thanks for the post,


  3. Mike,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Well, I was expecting something different than a celebrity endorsement. The world certainly does not need two Charlie Kimball Twitter accounts. Why does Novo even bother? So few followers -- most of them probably people like me.

    If Novo and Kimball are not going to engage in conversation with @racewithinsulin Twitter followers, they should just call it quits and limit themselves to logos on Kimball's cars, suit, helmet and website, IMHO.

  4. Anonymous11:28 AM

    Novo used to be a distinctive company that had a different heritage, clear values and a more trustworthy way of doing business than some big pharma players.

    They've really lost this in recent years - management still peddle the myth via a heavy PR and comms investment, and some CSR activities that don't get in the way of business. But when push comes to shove they're no better than anyone else.


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