Harvard Health Ad Watch: A feel-good message about a diabetes drug – Harvard Health Blog
This 60 second commercial for Trulicity, a diabetes drug, is one of the most heartwarming drug commercials I have ever seen. The narrator never uses the scare tactics of so many other commercials, listing the terrible things that could happen if you born take the treatment. Instead, from start to finish, the music, pictures, and spoken words deliver stimulating and encouraging messages aimed at helping your body do what it’s supposed to do despite diabetes.
There’s a lot of good information here, but like most direct-to-consumer health marketing, it’s also lacking. Let’s review, okay?
Three actors, three positive messages
The announcement opens with uplifting music and statements from three people with type 2 diabetes (though all of them are actors, as shown in the text at the bottom of the screen). A woman faces the camera to declare
“My body is really powerful.”
So far, so good! Then a man wearing a helmet and holding blueprints at a construction site says
“I have the power to lower my blood sugar and my A1C. “
More good news! By the way, it refers to hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), a molecule in the circulatory system that serves as a standard test of average blood sugar over the previous two to three months. Normal or near-normal HbA1C suggests good diabetes control, while higher results indicate high blood sugar and less diabetes control.
We then meet a third woman wearing scrubs, who works in the physiotherapy department of a hospital. She says
“… Because I can still make my own insulin and Trulicity activates my body to release it, just like it’s supposed to.”
Well, that sounds good too, right? Presented this way, Trulicity feels more natural as it encourages the release of insulin from your body rather than relying on injected insulin.
What is Trulicity anyway?
A voiceover tells us that Trulicity is not insulin, that it is taken once a week and that it starts working on the first dose. Small print indicates the generic name (dulaglutide) and that it is an injection “to improve blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes when used with diet and exercise”. Then we hear who should do not are taking Trulicity, a list that includes children, people with type 1 diabetes and pregnant women. Possible side effects are described, such as nausea, low blood sugar, stomach problems, and allergic reactions (see full list here). The FDA requires it in all direct-to-consumer advertising.
As the camera turns to the sun shining through the leaves and a band plays in the background, we see the physiotherapist again – after changing her scrub to regular clothes – at a picnic. with his family. We hear a few more warnings about side effects and the risk of lowering blood sugar too much when taking Trulicity with other diabetes medicines.
Standing in a beautiful park, the woman faces the camera and says
“I am able to reduce my A1C.”
Finally, the voiceover makes the usual suggestion
“Ask your doctor about Trulicity.”
What this ad achieves
The description of dulaglutide as a non-insulin drug that stimulates the release of insulin is correct. The text and oral information about the drug, including who should and should not take it and possible side effects, reflects the FDA approved prescribing information. And the unspoken message – that people with diabetes can be active, active, and social – is also true (and perhaps underestimated).
What is missing in this ad
Some important information provided only in text form is easy to miss. It only appears for a few seconds, and part of the print is quite small – they don’t call it fine print for nothing! For example, you could easily miss the fact that Trulicity is only available by injection. Likewise, you might forget the text explaining that Trulicity is not the first choice for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, and that diet and exercise are important in managing this condition.
Other missing information includes
- the meaning and relevance of HbA1C
- if Trulicity reduces complications of diabetes, such as kidney disease, nerve damage or vision problems, or improves quality of life or longevity; in fact, it is proven to reduce cardiovascular complications and mortality in people at high risk
- whether Trulicity is better than other treatments for diabetes, including other injectable treatments that work similarly, oral medications, or insulin
- the high cost of Trulicity: the “list price” is almost $ 10,000 / year, although health insurance or assistance programs can reduce the cost.
Another potentially misleading feature of the ad is the choice of actors. Being overweight is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. However, two of the three actors representing patients, including the physiotherapist who makes several appearances, appear to be close to normal weight. The third seems only slightly overweight.
The bottom line
Ads can provide a lot of useful information, but they can also be misleading. While there are regulations on what can and cannot be included in advertisements for prescription drugs like Trulicity, these regulations do not require the advertisements to paint the full picture.
If you or a loved one has type 2 diabetes, there are better ways to find out more about treatment options than a drug advertisement. Yes, talk to your doctor. But don’t limit your conversation to something you’ve heard or read in a wellness drug ad.
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