"It used to be that anytime something -- anything -- about diabetes was on TV or in the news, everyone would call each other right away, word would spread fast and everyone was all excited. But now there's a weekly television show devoted specifically to diabetes and people shrug it off and say, 'aw, that's so commercial,'" Tom Karlya of dLife tells me with a sigh.
I am sitting in his Westport, Ct., office. (Yes, where the LifeMed Media group that produces dLife TV works, in a little brick building about 15 ft. from the Westport train station on the New Haven line -- and where our very own Kerri now holds her much-improved day job.)
Tom Karlya wants to talk to me about viral marketing. What he really wants to know is why people are so skeptical of his organization. Instead of being delighted and spreading the word, many people seem to assume any media organization focused on diabetes is "just a vehicle for selling ads." Tom's brow furrows.
I try to explain:
* Media consumers -- and even more so, patients with diabetes -- are innately skeptical of the marketing onslaught these days. All professional web sites and TV shows tend to be "guilty until proven innocent" with regard to their informational motives.
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* "But people don't balk at ads in the Washington Post or the LA Times." Yes, because those are very general media, carrying ads for everything from shoe polish to cars to perfume. Readers are probably less skeptical that one powerful industry (Pharma) might control the messaging.
* Besides, a medium concentrating on a disease is not like other publications; it's automatically expected to have some "higher purpose" and stand above rampant commercialism.
So it's all about making your motives clear, I guess. As a regular columnist for dLife, I've known the folks on the team for a while, and I find them all very genuinely concerned about the state of diabetes care in this country and about the people who live with it. Almost everyone there seems to either have diabetes themselves, or have a close family member who does.
And it's not that dLife isn't succeeding. Their following is growing. As one indication, on the web site, they've recently added our OC buddy Scott K.J. and a number of other new writers as well, which wouldn't be the case unless the audience liked what they were seeing.
Still, it's apparently been a struggle to convince the D-world at large of dLife's good intentions -- even after they knocked themselves out (Tom Karlya in particular, in conjunction with ChildrenwithDiabetes) to help Hurricane Katrina victims with diabetes, shipping tons of D-supplies and equipment to New Orleans.
One thing that might help, I mention sheepishly, is a donation area on the site. Well, they've got that covered, Tom explains, with the newly established dLife Foundation, which will support a variety of donor and research organizations, educational programs, and diabetes camps. The idea is that dLife can help parcel out donations to a variety of good D-causes. This will kick in as soon as their application for non-profit status comes through, he tells me.
Another interesting strategy is reaching out to the Diabetes Educator community through a program called MyDiabetesEducator. dLife's tech team actually helps educators set up their own professional sites, "powered with multi-media content and tools from dLife, personalized by each educator, at no cost. Patients will ... be able to link to their educator's site and get information; check support group topics, times, and locations; make appointments; and download logs and charts." Check out the beta sites of dLife affiliates Joy Pape and Janis Roszler by way of example. Yes, the sites feature prominent links back to dLife tips, TV, and its medical expert columns. But that doesn't make them any less interesting or useful. After all, what are the chances that your CDE would get around to setting up and maintaining a web site like this on their own?
Clearly, I'm all for a healthy dose of skepticism. But advertising pays bills that can also support some good things. And in our case, like it or not, we PWDs collectively live off the monitors and insulins and other D-products vying for our attention. So maybe let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater, as they say. I too have found that it can be tricky walking the fine line between helping and trying to make a living at the same time (with a rather expensive disease to support).