Magic Johnson Appears in GlaxoSmithKline Ad Campaign for Combivir
Former NBA star Magic Johnson, "perhaps America's best-known" HIV-positive person, is currently appearing in a GlaxoSmithKline advertising campaign targeting urban blacks and promoting the company's antiretroviral drug Combivir, the AP/Arizona Daily Star reports. AIDS is currently the leading cause of death for blacks between the ages of 24 and 44. The campaign includes billboards, subway posters, full-page ads in both newspapers and magazines and educational ads featuring Johnson with messages such as, "Staying healthy is about a few basic things: A positive attitude, partnering with my doctor, taking my medicine every day." The campaign is being conducted in cities with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS among blacks, including New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Miami; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Philadelphia; Houston; Atlanta; and Newark, N.J. "The new wave of this disease is moving toward minorities, specifically African Americans. More African Americans are dying from AIDS than white people. So, from a business perspective, if you want more patients, you have to focus on the African-American community," Peter Hare, vice president of GSK's HIV business unit, said. While GSK controls approximately 50% of the antiretroviral drug market, new alternatives and generics have created fierce competition. Hare said that traditional HIV drug marketing methods often do not reach the urban black population because "this group doesn't particularly trust the health care system." He added, "Research shows that they want someone they believe. And they believe in Magic Johnson." Although GSK and some other leading antiretroviral drug makers last year froze prices "as a gesture to the AIDS community," some AIDS advocates are upset that GSK is not offering low-cost incentives in addition to the new campaign. "Telling people to get tested and seek treatment and not providing the resources is corporate irresponsibility. The only issue left to tackle with AIDS is the cost of medication," Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said. Antiretroviral drugs, which are usually taken in combination with one another, can each cost between $1,500 and $6,700. Weinstein said that although the campaign is "clearly a commercial" for GSK products, it is nonetheless "helpful," as Johnson is the "ultimate symbol of living well with HIV" (Polier, AP/Arizona Daily Star, 1/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.