pfizer: View: Could the Oscar go to… Pfizer?

When I was a young brand manager in a pharmaceutical company, an article in Fortune magazine caught my attention. He was talking about a new condition that medical researchers had identified as “treatable.” The new state? Dyserection.

I was a bit confused. Wasn’t that the same thing as what used to be called “impotence”? I didn’t attach too much importance to the ED article until a new drug launch caught my eye about a year later. The drug: sildenafil. The brand: Viagra. The company: Pfizer. I realized that Pfizer was probably behind the article in Fortune.

Later working on healthcare brands, I was told that big pharma engages with ad agencies and content curators for a year or more before a new drug is launched. And in doing so, they attempt to shape the perceptions of physicians and consumers.

Remember, Pfizer managed to change the perception of a clinical condition that was once considered incurable to a simple condition that could be treated with a little blue diamond-shaped pill.

More recently, Monday’s Academy Awards made headlines for a number of the wrong reasons. The entire event was overshadowed by ‘Slapgate’ involving a man publicly slapping another man because the latter had publicly made a joke about the condition of the former’s wife’s hair.

Social media, predictably, went into overdrive with all sorts of speculation, opinions and observations. Jada Pinkett Smith, who the joke was made, suffers from an autoimmune condition called alopecia in which the body attacks its own hair follicles which can cause hair loss anywhere on the body. Pinkett Smith had gone public with her condition and opted out of wearing a wig as a show of solidarity.

Now, Pfizer was one of the co-sponsors of the Oscars telecast, along with a few other pharmaceutical majors like Novartis, Eli Lilly and BioNTech. Big pharmaceutical companies are big advertisers in the United States because they are allowed to advertise prescription drugs on television. Pfizer has two drugs – ritlecitinib and etrasimod – in development to treat alopecia areata. Still undergoing trials and testing, neither drug will be available to the public in the near future.

So, was this another Fortune article on long-term play similar to erectile dysfunction? Some experts think so. But Pfizer spokespersons denied participating in “Slapgate.” Anyway, the whole world now knows Jada Pinkett Smith’s disease: alopecia.

Chances are dermatologists and GPs will be bombarded with questions such as “Is my hair loss also alopecia?” ‘What treatment is Jada taking for her alopecia?’ etc And, if Pfizer launches the new drug anytime soon, boy, will it reap the benefits of this Oscar-facilitated “awareness campaign.”


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