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FDA-list celebrities: Why Mandy Moore is the latest Big Pharma recruit

By Flora Southey , 22-Aug-2017
Last updated on 22-Aug-2017 at 09:45 GMT2017-08-22T09:45:26Z

iStock/Choreograph
iStock/Choreograph

Merck & Co has launched a promotional campaign featuring US singer and actress Mandy Moore, which marketing expert John Mack says targets America’s celebrity-obsessed market.  

Merck described the Her Life. Her Adventures  campaign, which promotes the firm’s estonogestrel contraceptive implant Nexplanon, as “a campaign to encourage women to plan ahead and get educated about family planning, including birth control options.”

The campaign includes links to the Nexplanon product site , and a video of Moore advocating for women to plan ahead: “For me, having a plan in place that includes birth control, helps me stay focused on my priorities,” she said in the campaign.

Mingle MediaTV, CC BY-SA 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=15630051

Pharmaceutical marketing expert John Mack (also known as the Pharmaguy ) said drug firms use celebrities to advertise products in the US to target certain demographics.

“The US market – especially women, who make most health decisions and for whom many drugs are designed – are infatuated with celebrities,” he told us.

“Men are also targeted via sports celebrities,” he added. One of the best known examples is footballer Pelé’s advertisements for Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra.

Merck did not respond to our request for comment.

Regulatory ‘grey area’

Mack said celebrities can also reach a wide audience via channels that are not considered advertising, such as on social media platforms and chat shows, where they can express themselves more liberally than in pharma-funded television commercials.

“Since many celebrities are used for disease awareness ads, what they say is not regulated by the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration]. Even when they mention a drug name on a talk show for example, they are not regulated as long as they actually take the drug,” he explained.

This regulatory ‘grey area’ was addressed in 2015 in an FDA warning letter issued to drug maker Duchesnay, following a social media post by reality television personality Kim Kardashian promoting the firm’s morning sickness drug Diclegis.

In the letter, the FDA requested Duchesnay immediately cease misbranding the drug, citing a lack of risk information in the post: “The social media post is false or misleading in that it presents efficacy claims for Diclegis, but fails to communicate any risk information associated with its use and it omits material facts.”  

Other celebrities to have endorsed pharmaceutical companies include singer Cyndi Lauper for Novartis, actress Jennifer Aniston for Shire, and race car driver Charlie Kimball for Novo Nordisk. 

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