Friday, September 26, 2008

Selling an "Anti-Cancer" Vaccine

On Tuesday, I went to Adina Nack's talk on STDs and the cervical cancer vaccine (Gardasil), based on her book.  Gardasil is currently approved in the US for prescriptions for women from 9-26 only.  She showed an Gardasil (Merck) ad from the campaign.  The narrative emphasizes cancer-prevention, as opposed to the STD itself.  The marketing of the drug emphasizes cancer (a disease evoking great fear) and glosses over the fact that it is a preventative for the viral source of many cervical cancers.



The launch ads (2006) featured the use of "one less" language:



The "one less" language has also been used for the Cancer Institute Foundation's PSA:



as well as in last year's Spanish-language "Una Menos" ads:



The New Zealand approach focuses on an appeal of knowing that cervical cancer is caused by a virus "that most New Zealand women will get."  Luckily, in the ad, mom and Gardasil are there to protect the child on the playground from the virus floating around, hovering menacingly:



I just saw a Canadian ad for Gardasil that used a visual "sight" metaphor, where women now "see" and choose not to be blind about cervical cancer and its prevention. Comparing websites 
between US & Canada, the Canadian site (much more minimalist) is more explicit about the STD aspects of HPV, but the appeals still focus on the cancer.  Adina mentions how the "stigma" of STDs affects how we react to them.  Marketing a drug that can prevent a set of STDs (four HPV strains) with a target user age range of 9-26 is a tricky proposition, especially when the decision-maker is a parent or adult guardian.  

I'm not surprised that the recent ads use "cool" to market pharmaceuticals.  According to Forbes, the 18-26 targets haven't really caught on and although there were high hopes for Gardasil, the drug isn't a "blockbuster."  Additionally, The FDA isn't allowing the drug to be available to women 27-45, further limiting the market.  

The drug also hasn't been without controversy.  Despite being marketed as an anti-cancer drug, some were put-off morally, as it could be viewed as encouraging sexual activity in young girls.  Other issues have been safety concerns and unknown long-term effects.  One would think that an "anti-cancer" vaccine would be a no-brainer.

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