When Celebrities and Pharma Converge

Andrea Tillman, SVP, Head, Consumer Health & Brand Integration


Celebrities are no strangers to pharma and biotech partnerships. Since the 80’s we have seen celebrities raise awareness around different diseases or treatment options, tell their story, or that of a loved one. They are the perfect vehicle to get out a broad-based message to a sweeping group of admirers, all with a personal, humanistic, touch. There’s no denying that this type of partnership can be valuable when trying to reach an audience, but there is often a significant investment. Determining where these types of partnerships are most impactful, and who to engage, is critical.

The Credibility Necessity

Above all, your celebrity must be seen as credible to your specific audience. This means your celebrity must have a personal connection to the disease state or product and be open to speaking about it on a personal level. Take a step back. Would you believe and act on the message of your chosen celebrity?

A best-in-class example of a highly credible partnership was Hologic’s work with Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige and Ciara. Both Crow and Blige were breast cancer survivors who could speak passionately about the need to get screened early and often and Ciara is a well-known champion for health equity. Their credibility was wildly compelling and Hologic witnessed a significant uptick in mammograms post launch.

The Celebrity ‘Sweet Spot’

Are you working in a rare disease or in a condition that impacts millions globally? If it’s the latter, a celebrity might be a perfect addition to your marketing mix. Celebrities are costly but that’s because they come with an enormous audience to mimic the broad-based audience of your target demographic.

A best-in-class example of a campaign that impacted millions was Khloe Kardashian’s work with Nurtec ODT, a migraine drug. Migraines impact more than one billion individuals each year so it makes sense that Pfizer sought out a celebrity with a wide following of nearly half a billion.

Keeping it Real

Celebrity marketing can really hit the mark when it comes from the heart. Celebrities are known for their glossy exteriors, so when they open up and share something a little raw with their audience, it catches attention and engages their audience in a deeply personal way. This kind of personalization moves consumers to action.

A best-in-class example a campaign that got real was Kristin Bell’s partnership with the online Rx provider, Hers. Bell opened up about her longtime struggles with mental health and used her message to fight stigma around seeking appropriate treatment. The campaign came across as authentic in all the right kinds of ways.

Evaluating Risk

Finally, and arguably most importantly, make sure you partner with a celebrity who will be low risk for your brand, and be prepared to deal with the consequences if they end up becoming more risky. This means extensive and appropriate vetting of the celebrity as well as perception analysis. Some celebrities have said uncomfortable things in the past, others may have alienated whole segments of the population. You must mitigate that to the best of your ability.

A great example of a brilliant celebrity campaign that came under fire after launch was Chrissy Teigen’s work with Ferring Pharmaceuticals. Shortly after Ferring launched their Fertility Out Loud campaign, Teigen came under fire for insensitive comments made on her personal Twitter profile. Suddenly, a low-risk, much beloved, celebrity became divisive and the team at Ferring had to weather the storm.

Celebrities can move mountains for brands but only in the right setting, with the right message and the right safeguards. Do you due diligence and choose wisely and you could be amazed by the results of your campaign.