A celebrity spokesperson can certainly be a useful tool to promote your brand, but it is important to choose the right person for the right reasons or he or she may do your campaign more harm than good. 


From Mickey Mantle to Paula Deen, the pharma sector has seen its share of celebrity spokesperson mishaps. Yet, executed thoughtfully and for the right patient need, the spokesperson concept retains its place in healthcare communications. In the face of information overload, celebrities can drive attention; carry a call-to-action; and mobilize patients, physicians and advocates toward conversation. The potential for a recognized figure to reach and influence people to engage in a healthcare solution is undeniably attractive. But, there is more to choosing a celebrity than Q Scores, which measure consumer familiarity with a personality.


Despite good intentions, if a celebrity is chosen solely for his or her star power, the campaign can flop—or worse, backfire. The “what” of a spokesperson campaign must never take a back seat to the “who.” In order to be successful, companies must be committed first and foremost to the public health call-to-action itself and the peer-review science that supports that rallying cry—the “what” of the campaign—before giving rigorous consideration to celebrities “who” might give the message a voice. Furthermore, if the spokesperson overpowers content—if his or her fame or situation overshadows the healthcare call-to-action—then a star’s sizzle can actually detract from the message you’re trying to amplify.


The vetting process for a celebrity spokesperson must transcend beyond his or her Q Score. The background check, cost and product connection are all givens. There are always risks to leveraging a star to convey a message, both known and unknown—skeletons may appear suddenly—and these must be determined. Still, a strong spokesperson is effective not because of his or her stardom, but because he or she is an actual patient (or caregiver) who is conscious of the condition and willing to help others. The “A-Lister” who excites consumers (including, perhaps, internal colleagues) may have gravitas and guarantee media attention; however, if his or her connection to the medical condition is not believable, it’s the wrong choice. Their personal story should exemplify the patient journey—reaching diagnosis, facing the challenges of being compliant, finding the right language to communicate with physicians or other patients, etc. In fact, consumers often look to “someone just like me” as their ultimate role model for health-related behaviors.


The most successful campaigns use the celebrity spokesperson as a complement to the medical experience. Pairing the spokesperson with a clinical expert is particularly valuable: Ultimately, it’s the strong connection between patient and physician that determines the path to improved care. The celebrity can speak about personal experience, but the doctor needs to be there to discuss the condition and possibilities. Visibility without medical wisdom does nothing enduring for the brand—let alone for patient outcomes. The celebrity is there to spark conversation; therefore, successful campaigns leverage the opportunity to model the doctor-patient conversation in the media interview.


When our clients’ products succeed in the marketplace, it benefits both patients’ lives and public health. At the end of the day, when a company steps back to evaluate its spokesperson campaign, the ultimate metric of success should be whether the message conveyed contributed to advancing public health. Certainly, promoting brand and category awareness are crucial, but if the effort does not impact patient outcomes or quality of life, then even the brightest star will fizzle.   


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