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Weight loss - made real

Media relations case study: launching alli with consistent results in 27 European countries

In April 2009, alli launched with two firsts – the first clinically proven weight loss medication to be available over the counter and the first product to receive pan-European approval for switching from prescription to pharmacy use. The launch was always going to create interest so the main task was to create a realistic expectation (alli isn't a magic pill) and communicate the same messages across Europe in order to create a consistent launch 'image.' With GSK, Virgo HEALTH developed a powerful central PR strategy, encouraging and equipping countries to deliver a gold-standard launch that would build knowledge, credibility and confidence in alli.


Alli first team member, Jim Douglas, talks to ITN about his weight-loss achievements
At the UK alli launch media event, alli first team member, Jim Douglas, talks to ITN about his weight-loss achievements


• To deliver a pan-European PR campaign to provide direction and support to alli brand teams and to drive consistent results in 27 launch countries
• To communicate with target audiences by securing accurate, balanced media coverage with the correct tone
• To establish alli as a truly credible, clinically-proven product while managing people's expectations, educating that alli is not a magic pill
• To reassure consumers of pharmacists' expertise in weight management to ensure alli's success as an over-the-counter brand.

The story began when, across Europe, positive opinion was announced, and the granting of the licence soon after. These regulatory milestones were maximised to create awareness, educate and enthuse media and consumers. Significant national and broadcast coverage was achieved in all countries – the UK's Evening Standard even bumped its first edition front-page story on Obama's inauguration for the headline 'An anti obesity pill going on sale' in the late edition!

In addition to the clinical and functional product messages, it was essential that the PR campaign engaged with media and consumers on an emotional level to support individuals' weight loss, leading to a positive brand experience. Harnessing personal experience was crucial in demonstrating alli's value in changing people's lifestyles; therefore a complex recruitment programme was devised so selected people – the alli first team – could uniquely preview the alli programme. Their personal positive experiences were much more powerful than press materials alone.  

Once licence was granted, the media could be briefed and the EU team began providing an array of toolkits, templates and guidance to the countries. Media relations needed to be creative to ensure that journalists were receptive to learning about alli, thereby encouraging balanced and accurate reporting. The alli programme was presented to long-lead magazines as well as media medics, with materials embargoed to align coverage around launch. A pharmacist spoke of his expertise in weight management and supply of alli, and an independent nutritionist spoke about the healthy, balanced diet needed for weight loss. alli programme briefings were given by GSK personnel and the event catering demonstrated how good 'alli friendly' food really is.

Due to the scepticism towards over-the-counter alli and potential diet-related side effects, a thorough crisis and issues campaign was implemented. Statements were prepared and spokespeople were media trained.

Each country was equipped to hold an alli launch media event. In the UK, for example, a press conference was given which included a briefing from independent experts speaking on the scale of the obesity problem and the role of pharmacists, alongside GSK spokespeople delivering the brand messages. This was followed by the ultimate alli experience exhibition including themed zones on pharmacy, the alli diet-plan book and the alli programme. Interviews took place with GSK spokespeople and the independent experts. alli case studies also spoke about their personal experiences.

Media interest and coverage was exceptional. 1,759 pieces of print, online or broadcast coverage were achieved amounting to a total circulation of over 176 million. Across Europe, 600 journalists attended launch events with widespread support across a range of experts.

The launch produced huge sales in the first week in many markets. In France for example, forecasts estimated 150,000 units sold in the first year but in fact 120,000 units were sold in the first two weeks. Return on investment for PR outstripped expectations. In the UK, for every £1 spent on PR, £7.70 in retail sales was achieved in week one. Such success led to markets being advised to delay TV advertising beyond the planned date to allow full benefit of PR to be felt.


Case study details

Client: GSK Consumer Health
Agency: Virgo HEALTH (responsible for the EU and UK PR campaigns)
Campaign: The launch of alli
Timescale: October 2008 to April 2009

4th March 2010


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