New York Times Examines Drug Company GlaxoSmithKline’s Multicultural Advertising for Diabetes Drug Avandia
The New York Times on Wednesday examined efforts by GlaxoSmithKline to market its diabetes treatment Avandia to blacks. According to the Times, GSK -- "much more so than any other maker of diabetes drugs" -- "has long placed a marketing focus on" blacks because type 2 diabetes is twice as likely to affect blacks than non-Hispanic whites.
For its marketing campaign, the company enlisted black jazz singer and actress Della Reese as its spokesperson from 2004 to 2006; featured black actors in its mainstream magazine advertisements; promoted Avandia to black patients via direct mail; and prominently featured blacks on the Web site for Avandia, according to the Times. Marketers' usual efforts to reach black audiences often include advertisements in black-focused publications or on the Black Entertainment Television network, but not in mainstream media, the Times reports. GSK also has targeted Hispanics with its advertisements.
Croom Lawrence -- vice president for strategy and insight at RTC Relationship Marketing, a direct marketing advertising agency in the WPP Group -- said, "You see in the broad diabetes category an acknowledgement or nod toward the African-American community, but GlaxoSmithKline was definitely a leader and one of the first groups to really use a more targeted effort." He added, "That was really the face of this brand." Byron Lewis -- chair and CEO of the Uniworld Group, the agency that created multicultural Avandia ads from 2001 to 2004 -- said, "This is an audience that has not had the benefit of advertising in the past."
According to the Times, GSK received praise from the advertising industry, as well as from black doctors, for its campaign and for "putting a friendly face on a drug for a disease that too often goes untreated, particularly among minority groups."
With recent concern about whether Avandia increases users' risk of a heart attack, there now is a question of whether GSK's marketing approach could "backfir[e]," the Times reports. A congressional hearing on Wednesday addressed the safety concerns.
Some advertising executives said that, because GSK in recent years "helped raise diabetes awareness" among blacks, the company might "now be able to build on a reputation with Avandia for having provided important information to black consumers," the Times reports.
Jo Muse -- chair and CEO of Muse Communications, a multicultural ad agency -- said, "For [GSK] to advertise a drug to African-Americans that could help save lives and provide information, that is important," adding, "Thousands of African-American men, in particular, have been affected in a positive way by direct-to-patient advertising."
GSK would not comment on its marketing strategy, though outside experts said that maintaining Avandia customers likely will involve continuing GSK's "strategy of mainstream ads, with an African-American emphasis," according to the Times (Story, New York Times, 6/6).