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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Are celebrities bad for your health… communications?

The premium on the famous means their social media interactions can be valuable for comms and disease awareness

Social media was once a way to connect with the people within your own world - I remember when Facebook launched, you had to have a university email address to sign up and it felt exclusive. That was then. Today social media doesn’t just connect us to our friends and family, it allows us to connect with anyone and everyone, even celebrities.

I’m as guilty as the next person of following the social accounts of people who are essentially strangers - celebrities, restaurants, photographers, adorable dogs (more dogs than humans if I’m being honest). But for many people this social exchange acts as a window into the lives of the people they admire - and it’s more compelling than a news report or glossy magazine because it’s coming straight from the source. For many of these celebrity accounts it feels more true to life - typos, school runs, dinner and all.

And it’s not just actors, singers and ‘reality’ stars that are seen as influencers anymore. Social media has changed the landscape of ‘celebrity culture’ because nowadays having over twenty-thousand followers on social channels makes you a celebrity in your own right - the influence is undeniable in brand communications.

The premium placed on celebrity means that the weight of these social media interactions is now as valued in healthcare communications, and specifically disease awareness, as it is in consumer celebrity endorsements. Just think of the impact Michael J Fox has had on the awareness of Parkinson’s; or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the stigmas attached to mental health; even the over-exposed Kardashian clan have spoken out about psoriasis (Kim) and infertility issues (Khloe).

Celebrities can help raise awareness quickly to wide-ranging audiences. They have long played the role of influencer. People want to be them, know them, relate to them, so they may also be more likely to listen to them - especially in an age where expert opinions are regularly challenged and often ignored, regardless of their veracity.

This isn’t to say that it will always be the best approach for a health campaign. There will always be challenges with having celebrity endorsements - they’re regularly in the public eye, so one day may bring greater awareness, but the next may be mired in controversy (I’m looking at you, healthy living bloggers). Most celebrities are paid for sharing information, but if they suffer from a condition, shouldn’t the same guidelines apply to them as any other patient? We have an ethical responsibility to patient communities to ensure this is the case.

We live in a celeb-obsessed world, where their influence has been tried and tested. But should we incorporate them more into disease awareness? As with anything in healthcare communications the answer can be complicated and depends on relevance. Should payments be made to a celebrity patient? Why not give to a charity instead?

Ultimately though, anything that brings awareness to difficult conditions and builds up support for patient communities can only be a good thing in my opinion.

Article by
Tatiana Allan

Senior account manager at firstlight, a communications agency working across corporate, technology and healthcare

2nd May 2017

From: Marketing

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