Monday, June 22, 2009

Nasonex Bee May Usher In a Whole New Way to do FDA-friendly Pharma Tweets

Diabetes patient/racecar driver Charlie Kimball -- or his Novo Nordisk marketing handler(s) -- made the first ever pharma drug branded Tweet, which was offered up as a "model" for others to follow. I disagree (see "Novo Nordisk's Branded (Levemir) Tweet is Sleazy Twitter Spam!").

Whether or not Kimball's Tweet was "sleazy," "spam," "uninspiring," or something else, it will surely be followed by others. Hopefully, these others will learn from Novo Nordisk's experience.

However, there are other ways that pharmaceutical companies can leverage their brands' assets via Twitter. Rumor has it, for example, that the Nasonex bee character will start Tweeting like a little bird!

The beloved bee -- whose voiceover is said to be provided by actor Antonio Banderas -- is arguably the longest-lived drug brandname character/icon. Viewers of TV commercials such as the one below instantly associate the bee with Nasonex in focus groups.

If the bee rumor is true, it would represent a unique way of marketing Rx drugs via Twitter.

Instead of using real world highly-paid celebrities or patient advocates, who may stray from the script (see Andy Behrman, Now an Anti-BMS Spokesperson, Says "Ask Your Doctor If Abilify is Wrong for You"), using a drug icon like the bee avoids all this. Plus, there is no need to mention the drug name in Tweets made by the bee's agents (obviously, the mental link between the bee and the drug name is very strong).

Here are few of the topics that the Nasonex bee will Tweet about:
  • Updates on pollen counts with links to the "Pollen & Weather Forecast" on the Nasonex website,
  • Reviews of movies like The Secret Life of Bees,
  • Replies to Tweets made by Ronnie Nose -- another, lesser known and beloved, character -- with links to the "Don't Blow It!" game on the Nasonex site,
  • Humorous Tweets about the bee's love/hate relationships with pollen-coated flowers,
  • Bee trivia such as "How many bees does it take to make 1 pound of honey?" replies encouraged, and
  • Much, much, more...
Many drugs are likely to use the bee's Twitter account as a model for their own Twitter efforts -- even drugs that use real actors as characters in their DTC ads.

Abbott's anti-cholesterol drug Trilipix, for example, uses an actor who is a fashion photographer in its new DTC TV ads. This actor looks amazingly like the French actor Vincent Lindon (see "OMG! Worst Print Ad Ever! Plus: Is that French Actor Vincent Lindon?"). Having the character portrayed in the ad Tweet under a fictitious name -- eg, Vincent Trip, the fashion photographer -- would be very interesting. Vince can talk about his trade just as well as real-life Charlie Kimball does about his. Being totally ghost-written by Abbott agents, the Tweets can focus on cholesterol-lowering topics like what Vince had for breakfast that morning as he awoke next to the model he photographed the day before.

Unfortunately, Pfizer would not have much luck launching a Twitter account "written" by its latest Lipitor TV character "Steve" whose pathetic attempt at pathos and real life experience appears to be of little appeal or interest to viewers. Besides, Steve is a real person and as such cannot be trusted by Pfizer (or any other pharma company) to carry on a real conversation with consumers via social media.


  1. John,

    Interesting premise (and I can't tell whether or not to take you seriously which is often the case).

    I think you're saying that it's better that pharma companies use fictitious characters in their social media efforts because they are more controllable than real people. Yet, isn't social media participation all about being genuine?

    Befuddled in Boston.

  2. All seriousness aside, pharma is having a difficult time using real people engaging authentically with the public -- see, for example, this post about Novo Nordisk/Charlie Kimball:

    Could it do any worse by using characters instead of real people.

    I will note that this is often done in show business -- ie, the character starring in USA Network's Burn Notice -- Michael Westen -- has his own Twitter account distinct from Jeffrey Donovan, the actor who plays the character. Westen's character actually FOLLOWED me and I thought it was a real person! To this day, I do not know if I have a direct connection with the character or the real person!

    People don't want relationships with brands. They want relationships with people, even if they are fictitious people or characters. Of course, a real person would have to take on the persona of the Nasonex bee, but it's a task that can handed from one person to another as long as each remains in character, true to the brand.

  3. "People don't want relationships with long as each remains in character, true to the brand."

    Now you're talking in circles. You say, people want relationships with other people--not brands (I agree). But since companies cannot trust people, they should invent personas who embody their brand. So, to use your logic, if a corporate persona is merely an extension/reflection of a brand, no one will want to have a relationship with said persona. Right?

  4. Scott,

    Forgive me as I worked through this admittedly half-baked idea.

    Let's say that brands want to have conversations with people, but people don't want conversations with brands -- they want conversations with people or, ext best thing, characters that have human characteristics. For example, I would not want a conversation with Lamisil -- I can't even imagine what it would be like! But I would love to have a conversation with "digger," the character that was once used in Lamisil commercials.

    Obviously, Digger is not a real person but has a persona that a real person can adopt in conversations with me via Twitter. That person can be a marketer. Playing the role of Digger, the marketer can carry on a conversation with me. I suspend my disbelief -- that this is a real person -- if it is done in an entertaining and educational way.

    Not sure if that clarifies my thinking or not.


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