You've seen them on TV and online. You couldn't help that they caught your eye or made your ears perk up, in spite of yourself. We’re talking about those ever-more-prevalent diabetes commercials, most brimming with smiling happy faces and energetic excitement about whatever the product aimed at PWDs (people with diabetes). Sometimes it's just hard to swallow.
Yep, some even have catchy tunes, big-name actors or celebs, or creative spins to bump up interest in these disease-whacking offerings. Have you seen the latest TV spots for once-weekly Ozempic, for example? "OH... people with type 2 diabetes are so EXCITED...!"
We clearly have a problem in the U.S. when it comes to being bombarded with marketing by Pharma and device companies, and that's come up in the recent conversation about healthcare cost and drug pricing regulation. Only the USA and New Zealand allow these televised ads to pop up like they do. But stepping aside from that big serious policy debate, sometimes you just have to smirk or shake your head about the actual quality and content shown in these commercials.
So, Diabetes Friends: what are the best and worst of these ads you've ever seen?
We have our own opinions, of course. Such as those ones with jingles like "Tresiba Ready" that get stuck in the mind thanks to Novo Nordisk pushing its new basal insulin. Today, we’re looking back on a number of these ads over the years just for fun -- with absolutely no scientific backing or even "what went into that marketing?" research here... just our humble personal opinions on commercials we liked and didn’t like so much as PWDs.
Celebs in Diabetes Commercials: Past and Present
You name the celeb with diabetes, and they've probably been featured in a D-commercial. Some faves that stand out to us through the years include...
The pop singer and now-actor has been in his share of commercials since announcing his type 1 diagnosis in 2005 –– from his younger appearances in JDRF ads and general D-awareness spots, to Type One Walk campaigns and some product-specific ads in recent years. Years ago, he did this pretty modern commercial for Bayer that had him rocking the guitar to plug the "plug and play" functionality of this USB meter (see what I did there?!), and saying "how cool is that?" This one really tapped into the younger market.
In one smooth video he did in 2015 (after 10 years with diabetes), he appeared in this slick, polished "behind the scenes" commercial for the Dexcom continuous glucose monitor. Thankfully Nick certainly keeps it real in talking about his diabetes and how the CGM has helped him.
Crystal Bowersox and BB King:
We have to give props to those great music-infused ads featuring country music star Crystal Bowersox and the late blues legend BB King, both members of our Diabetes Community who have done OneTouch glucose meter commercials over the years. We're huge fans of Mr. King's music, and really loved how these two did a recording segment with Crystal driving to meet and jam with Mr. King.
"Test with Confidence"
We also loved this one called "Guitar Fingers" that Crystal and BB King did together.
Sadly, we lost music legend BB King in May 2015 -- a big hit not only for the musical world, but for our Diabetes Community too, where he was such a passionate advocate. RIP, Mr. King.
Mary Tyler Moore:
The late actress made the JDRF her passion in life thanks to her own type 1 diagnosis at age 33, and her TV presence in D-commercials goes back many years to the late 70s and early 80s. You can still find some decades-old commercials like this one from 1989 when the JDRF hadn't yet put the R into its name and was then still the JDF. Oh yes, and remember when the JDRF/JDF dubbed the '90s as the "Decade of the Cure"...? Yeah.
Of course, Mary moved up the JDRF ranks through the years before passing away in 2017. One of her more recent memorable ads posed the question, "What Does Hope Look Like?"
Dina Merrill (from the '70s):
Another JDRF (then-JDF) commercial from even earlier -- four decades ago -- featured late actress Dina Merrill, who was once dubbed "the new Grace Kelly" for her roles in 40s/50s/60s movies. She later turned to finance and philanthropy, but this gem of a commercial from the '70s remains a classic celeb-says-so plug for the then very young JDF.
Certainly NOT in our favorites file, but how can we not mention Wilford, the original awkward diabetes TV guy who lives with type 2 and was a spokesperson for Liberty Medical? It's tough these days to find actual Wilford diabetes commercials without some parody or edited version popping up, but we were able to locate this classic spot as well as this one where he pronounces this condition in that signature "diah-beetus" way that he does.
Of course, it's hard not to smirk at this legendary spot with Wilford riding a horse and wearing his cowboy hat! ("Get off the horse and walk!" -- right?)
Wilford also did some work for Michigan-based medical supply company Binson's for a time, like this "All Your Needs" ad promoting the OneTouch Ultra 2 meter available there... and guess what? He still doesn't pronounce diabetes correctly! See that commercial here.
One more noteworthy ad in this category comes from the awesome D-Dad Alan Thicke (whose adult son was diagnosed with T1D as a kid) who is most well-known for his role on the '80s TV show Growing Pains. Though our D-Community lost Alan in 2016 after a heart attack, he had appeared in commercials over the years -- the main commercial of his that comes to mind was for CCS Medical Supply about no-cost meters delivered right to your door. It starts out (embarrassingly) with: "Attention! If you have Diabetes...!"
Accu-Chek: Dance-Worthy and Empowering!
Honestly, I believe my most favorite diabetes product commercial of all time is the Accu-Chek Nano commercial. I can't even count the times I've busted out in full dance moves to this D-tune when it's come up on TV or online. Go on, just try to resist!
Other Accu-Chek products have their own commercials too of course, and there are even other versions for the Nano -- such as this 2009 commercial for the Aviva Nano meter that has a James Bond seductive spy feel to it. As you watch it, be sure to count down like the commercial does -- 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
I find this one empowering, though I can't say it's particularly dance-worthy like the Nano spot. Still, it does have a good beat to it and Roche does a good job here with its slogans of "We've Got You" and "Innovation That Matters.”
The Worst... Or Not So Impressive
No, not the ED ones. And no, not the nerve pain or other complication commercials.
Although we do have to give kudos to Cedric the Entertainer for doing a "Step On Up" commercial with the ADA about diabetic nerve pain. He actually “gets it” because he watched his dad suffer from this painful complication.
We’re not bagging on those complication-targeting product ads where people seem flustered and unhappy thanks to D-Complications (aren't we all?). Rather, most of the diabetes commercials out there seem to be overly cheerful and positive – as if each product were a magic bullet for solving all our D-problems.
Seriously, the message seems to be that by taking this med or using that meter, we'll be just as blissful about life and diabetes as the paid actors grinning as they pose with "family and friends" doing happy things... right? Who are these companies trying to fool?! Why can’t they be a just little more realistic about the gritty reality of diabetes?
Case in point:
- Remember that strange "floating Toujeo insulin pen," that might have caught the eye on TV – which is officially called the "Journal" commercial. Yep, it’s a Sanofi ad for their newest basal insulin that's supposed to be better than Lantus and was approved in early 2015. But honestly, it's a kind of freaky seeing everything in paper-like form, including the featured woman’s dog, her husband at home and other people. This one could actually give you nightmares!
- The Januvia "Lovely Day" commercial for a DDP-4 product from Merck contains all the classics -- a woman taking the stairs and another walking in the park, a man watching his kid's baseball game, and a husband and wife happily cooking together. Of course, the incredibly long list of fun side effects like nausea and vomiting always compliment these upbeat spots so well... NOT.
- A similar AstraZeneca "All Walks of Life" ad promoting Farxiga, which is a once-daily SGLT2 inhibitor just approved in 2014. Again, over-the-top happiness does not ring true.
- A Victoza Ad by Novo tells us, "Hey, it's not insulin!" But wait… it’s still injectable, so why do these faux patients look so delighted?
- This commercial by Tri-State Medical aimed at Medicare folk, featuring the generic-looking On Call Vivid Glucose Meter (say what?!). It features a guy in a lab coat talking, a demo of someone checking their BG, and a white van that's supposedly transporting supplies... (wait for it)... right to your doorstep! And what's up with this pyramid of boxes and supplies behind him?!
Oh, and let's not even get into the worst diabetes infomercial of all time... from Spring 2015, when Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee starred in his own "diabetes cure" ad and dubbed himself a "former diabetic." This was a pitch for Barton Publishing's so-called "Diabetes Solution Kit" (see also: snake oil shill). Huckabee's done the same miracle pitch about cancer drugs, and has taken a lot of flack about it even though he continues defending his efforts.
Meter Boy on Diabetes Advertisements
For some perspective that might differ from our own, we reached out to Brad Slaight, who's not only a fellow type 1 but also a Hollywood-insider himself as an actor, comedian and writer. He has been keeping tabs on these diabetes spots for many years. He tells us that what catches his eye these days is simply the plethora of these diabetes spots, compared to previous years. That, and the simplicity of the content.
“I have noticed in the insulin pen commercials they show people at restaurants placing their pens on the table next to their plate. Appetizer? Dessert? They also regularly talk about the goal of an A1C, which is important but it seems like that's all that matters. Most, if not all, are geared for type 2s, which is obviously a much bigger market. Personally, I would like to see more PSA's educating the public but there's no money in that."
Brad happens to be the voice of "Meter Boy" in the animated Diabetes Hero Squad series (and a cartoonist here at the 'Mine), and he tells us that he'd like to take on proposing some fun, PSA-like ads for diabetes awareness to push back on the frequency of product commercials. One idea he and his D-Hero Squad team have been working on is a spot highlighting the symptoms of type 1 diabetes so a diagnosis doesn't get missed. That spot can be viewed here.
Not a bad idea, Brad. We can definitely get on board with superheroes educating about diabetes!
So that’s our view of the Best and Worst Diabetes Commercials, as we see them. What about you all?