Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Ethics of Converting Allergy Slacker Moms

There's a video that's moving like wildfire today through the various local advocacy groups. (Note: as of 4/20, it's been taken off Facebook/Youtube so I can no longer link to it here.) It was just released by Mylan Pharmaceutical (formerly Dey), the makers of the EpiPen® autoinjector. In case you can't hear the audio, here's the script:

Slacker Allergy Mom: "Excited for Max's birthday party? Should be pretty awesome."

Adorable Kid: "Yep"

Slacker Allergy Mom: "Even with your peanut allergy and a cake made with who knows what. Because we're prepared - with EpiPen®."

When I first saw this last night, I reacted in the way I've seen 99% of other posters react  with disgust. How dare this mother think she can just give her kid any random cake! Doesn't she understand that an EpiPen® is a BIG DEAL? An automatic hospital trip? Traumatic for the kid and stressful for the parent?

But then I did a little thinking...and a little research. I came across the Indeed profile for the brand manager for the EpiPen® injector*. He states the objective of the new ad series pretty clearly:
Repositioned the EpiPen professional campaign to better capitalize upon an expanded "at risk" indication.
For those of you who don't speak fluent Resume-eeze, this means they're trying to get moms who DON'T currently use an  EpiPen® injector to buy one by making them feel they need one.

So who are these Slacker Allergy Moms they're targeting? Based on their commercials so far, there seem to be two types:

1) Moms who are a little scared about allergies but just not scared enough to get that prescription filled. There are two commercials for these moms, called BUS and CAMPING. Both of these ads target situations where anxiety for mothers is already ratcheted up - that first day of school or camp. (Just to snark here for a minute...does anyone else think that blond, ringletted child and dark-haired mother are genetically improbable?) By associating the EpiPen® injector with that anxiety, they're hoping to tip these mothers over into GETTING THAT SCRIPT FILLED!

2) Moms who don't like the hassle of food allergies. Our SAM in this ad is socially cool. She's definitely not going to want the hassle of taking that kid to the ER after she gives him an EpiPen. So...this commercial is about her convenience. She probably already lets him eat that cake, as long as it passes the simple "does it have peanuts in it?" test, but now she doesn't have to feel guilty about it. Sure, we know he's going to need an ER afterward, but if that gets emphasized up-front she'll never buy that EpiPen® injector in the first place. Better to just bury it in the mumbled warnings all these commercials have to have and emphasize the convenience. It's a magic bullet!

So now that you know what they're doing...what's wrong with it? Is there really any difference between the strategy used to "convert" SAM #1 vs. SAM #2?

Before you decide, you need to understand the size of this under-penetrated market. Here's a great study that shows how parents in the real world deal with allergies. Of 14,677 patients in an HMO (gotta love HMOs for epidemiology!) who received an EpiPen® prescription, only 46% filled the prescription even once. Patients with a food allergy diagnosis and those under age 12 filled them at a higher rate, but the numbers are still nowhere close to 100%. Talk about opportunity to expand market share!

So...to the incensed advocates who are out there right now posting and fuming, I have this question: who does this commercial hurt?
  • Mylan makes more money.
  • FAAN's new CEO is a former marketeer for Dey -- they're gonna be fine with it.
  • Slacker Allergy Mom gets an  EpiPen® injector. It may be because she's been emotionally manipulated...she may not understand the need for that hospital trip...but she still orders one
The only people upset about this are the food allergy community members who already buy EpiPen® injectors, and we're not their target market. It may feel wrong to manipulate mothers into buying pens simply for their convenience, but keep in mind that our SAM #2 probably already lets him eat the cake

If scaring allergy moms into compliance is perfectly ethical, why is greeding allergy moms into compliance (their wish for convenience) suddenly not? Doesn't the end of them having an EpiPen® injector in hand justify the means of emotional manipulation? Don't we use emotional manipulation every day on our allergy chat boards for the same purpose? 

Leave me a comment if you're thrilled by the first example but horrified by the second. 

*Removing his name and profile link as of 4/24...don't want to Google-bomb the poor guy forever!



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