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Singer Nick Jonas starred in the 2021 Dexcom Super Bowl ad. Image courtesy of Dexcom

Dexcom has made it to the Super Bowl, investing millions into a commercial with celebrity singer and actor Nick Jonas in order to take continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) into the big game’s advertising end zone and raise awareness on diabetes and the benefits of CGM technology.

In the 30-second commercial that aired after the game’s first quarter, Jonas, who has lived with type 1 diabetes (T1D) himself since age 13, showed off how he’s able to see his glucose numbers directly on a smartphone app using the Dexcom G6 CGM. “Drones deliver packages, and people with diabetes are still pricking their fingers? What?!” he asks, in an ad clearly sending a message that fingerstick blood sugar tests are a thing of the past.

An aged Nick Jonas in Super Bowl ad. Image courtesy of Dexcom.

The ad also features a much-older gray-haired Jonas — created using age-progression software — as another illustration of what modern technology can do.

This Super Bowl LV commercial for advanced diabetes tech came at a time when many big brands like Budweiser, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Hyundai opted to forgo million-dollar advertisements in light of the continuing global pandemic.

Since a 30-second spot during the game costs roughly $5.6 million, experts say these companies didn’t want to send the wrong message or opted to put the money towards COVID-19 relief instead.

So naturally, there’s been some heated discussion among the Diabetes Community about whether Dexcom’s choice to invest in a Super Bowl ad was the right one — especially given the insulin pricing crisis and a record number of people with diabetes struggling to afford the treatments they need.

Yet, with roughly 100 million viewers worldwide, no doubt this ad made a huge impact in diabetes awareness across the board, with Dexcom likely hoping they’ll become a household name and that CGM will be recognized as the future standard of diabetes care.

Browsing online responses, you’ll find everything from happiness, to neutrality to outright anger — aimed at both the California CGM company as well as directly at Jonas, who despite living withT1D himself doesn’t face the same everyday struggles as most of us due to his celebrity status.

DiabetesMine spoke with James McIntosh, senior public relations manager for San Diego-based Dexcom, about why the company chose to invest in a Super Bowl ad in a time when the global health pandemic has hit so many hard, both financially and in terms of health struggles.

“We thought it was the time and place to bring CGM awareness to the masses — and not just to people with diabetes, but their loved ones, caregivers, and even healthcare professionals who need to know about this technology and its potential to improve outcomes and quality of life for people with diabetes,” he told DiabetesMine. “We have been overwhelmed with the positive feedback from the Diabetes Community about the awareness the spot will generate.”

McIntosh added: “That said, we have always known this conversation is about more than just awareness. It’s about improving and expanding access as well… It’s important to understand that raising awareness is a critical component of the fight to improve access and reimbursement, so running an ad during the Super Bowl is one of the most impactful ways to support and energize our ongoing efforts to make CGM accessible to everyone who can benefit from it.”

Nick Jonas addressed his own motivations for the Dexcom ad in an AdWeek interview: “I try to be transparent because I feel like I’ve got a really special opportunity to be a recognizable face for both young people and older people who live with this disease, and show that it is possible to live a normal life. Being able to just pull my phone out — which I look at more than I probably should anyway — and just right there have my numbers, my readings, where I’m headed, where I’m trending… it’s an incredible tool.”

Pop singer Jonas is most well known for his start with the Jonas Brothers, being a judge on “The Voice,” and his marriage to actress Priyanka Chopra in 2018.

We’ve talked to Jonas a number of times here at DiabetesMine, including in 2015 when he marked his first decade of life with T1D after being diagnosed as a teenager.

He went public with his diabetes diagnosis in 2007 and has been an active advocate since, co-founding the Beyond Type 1 group. He’s previously been a spokesperson for Insulet’s OmniPod tubeless insulin pump and has inspired young people the world over to be “out and proud” with their diabetes.

So it’s a logical step that Dexcom chose to work with Jonas, who’s been a so-called #DexcomWarrior for the past several years since he started using earlier models of the Dexcom CGM.

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Behind the scenes of Super Bowl ad. Image courtesy of Dexcom.

There is also another T1D cast in the commercial. Actress Breana Raquel, a 20-year-old Dexcom CGM user herself, was the girl with the high-tech bright eyes that flash for a moment.

Aside from the ad itself, Dexcom also launched a virtual DexcomGameDay site where people could snap their own photos — either dancing or displaying their own Dexcom CGM — and merge it into an interactive image of Jonas doing the same action.

For those who live with diabetes, the reactions were pretty wide-ranging.

Many expressed excitement and inspiration about seeing a fellow T1D on national TV in such a coveted commercial spot. Others expressed blatant disgust that Dexcom decided to spend millions on an ad when so many people with diabetes (PWDs) can’t even afford the basics, let alone CGM supplies. Meanwhile, some felt Dexcom missed the mark in pushing a “No Fingersticks” message, as the technology doesn’t 100 percent eliminate the need and the message could create stigma for those who still use test strips.

Inspired by the ad

D-Mom Tracy Capaul in Arizona loved seeing the commercial during the Super Bowl and said her T1D son was inspired seeing Jonas talking about diabetes.

Her 11-year-old son was diagnosed at 16 months old, and more recently in September 2020, her then 2-year-old daughter started showing T1D symptoms and was diagnosed before going into diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

She said her son has followed his passion of playing tackle football since age 5, and dreams of becoming an NFL linebacker one day.

“I think ads like the Nick Jonas one bring important attention to this horrible disease that our families live with every day,” Capaul said. “So many people in today’s society, even in 2021, still believe diabetes is your great aunt’s disease where you just can’t eat sugar. I hope everyone gets to see that you can still do whatever you want while living with this disease, but it’s something that definitely can’t be ignored.”

Another D-Mom, Kasey Johnson Zyglocke in Virginia, said her 9-year-old son who was diagnosed at 17 months was excited so excited to see the Super Bowl commercial. They were surprised by it but afterward found a post in a private Facebook group to voice their excitement and share a photo of her son with his own diabetes gear worn on his arm.

Hundreds of others made similar comments online in that group alone, many expressing inspiration about the Jonas commercial and what it does to raise the profile of T1D and CGM tech.

Ohio T1D Leanne Johnson acknowledges that Jonas doesn’t have the financial struggles that some PWDs experience, but she appreciates how he does know the struggle of living with diabetes. And he understands what having the right tools, like a CGM, can mean for management, she says.

“(Jonas) is bringing attention to diabetes. He’s lived with it this disease in the spotlight for years. So what if he is getting paid for his time? If he was just a person on the street, it wouldn’t draw any attention to the cause,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure what is making everyone so darn upset. What he is doing is in no way hurting any of us. As a diabetic and a nurse, I am very happy he is doing this. This is a good day for diabetics, no matter the type.”

In Oregon, longtime T1D Tom Secor says that many people he knows mentioned the Dexcom ad to him following its airing during the Super Bowl. He appreciated the awareness raised by the commercial, which gave him the opportunity to help educate these folks further by explaining the differences between T1D and type 2 diabetes, for example.

“It’s great to see that awareness and be able to respond to people in raising even more awareness about diabetes as a result,” Secor said.

Unhappy with Dexcom, Jonas

Critics of the commercial set their sights on both Dexcom as well as Jonas personally.

Type 1 Kasie Tresback in New Hampshire pointed out that the celeb singer only speaks about diabetes when he’s paid to do so, and in her eyes, that means he’s not a true advocate.

“This million-dollar ad could have done so much, like bring attention to the ridiculous prices of diabetic medications and supplies,” she said. “I’d be willing to bet every diabetic has been told at least once about CGMs. We don’t need an ad telling us ‘finger sticks are a thing of the past’ when most can’t even afford test strips.”

In Denver, Colorado, longtime T1D Andrea (last name withheld) found it troubling that Dexcom would spend the money on a Super Bowl ad when so many can’t afford to use that particular CGM. Diagnosed in college at 19, she was on Medicaid without any parental support network — meaning all diabetes costs were her responsibility. Even now, years later, she struggles to afford her copay for the Dexcom CGM that she was finally able to afford.

It’s important to Andrea that people recognize how very many people can’t afford health insurance or supplies needed for a CGM, not to mention insulin prices that lead as many as 1 in 4 PWDs to ration insulin.

“The sad fact is Dexcom decided to spend over $5 million on an advertisement rather than simply lowering their prices to help the most vulnerable diabetics,” she told DiabetesMine, noting that Black, Latinx, and other people of color often have less access to diabetes tech.

“As we address racial and disability injustices in this country, we also need to reckon with why companies would rather spend copious amounts of money to advertise a lifesaving device rather than simply help people who need it,” Andrea said.

Did Dexcom miss the mark?

Meanwhile, others in the D-Community point out they were looking forward to the Dexcom commercial with Jonas before the game, but felt disappointed by the messaging of the final ad.

Fellow T1D Caroline Levens, a low carb diabetes blogger in the California Bay Area, wrote at Diabetes Daily: “There’s already a big stigma associated with fingerpricks. It shouldn’t have to be something people are ashamed to do… New technology is great, but ‘othering’ fingersticks does not help.”

Levens urged Dexcom to think about the little boy watching the Super Bowl, who might already be ashamed to poke his finger and despite knowing that Dexcom’s CGM exists, his parents can’t afford it.

Noting that not everyone can get everything they want, Levens pointed out: “This ad could have been approached in a completely different way that I believe would have delivered as strong as business results for Dexcom without doing any harm to the Diabetes Community. Dexcom had a big opportunity, and quite frankly, blew it.”

Los Angeles writer and editor Dave Holmes, who lives with adult-diagnosed T1D himself, wrote an Esquire article capturing both sides of the argument. He specifically mentioned a family whose T1D daughter had just been diagnosed in 2020 and had started on Dexcom, pointing out the girl was excited to see the ad because “stuff like this makes her feel more normal.”

Yet, in his article Holmes also questions the company’s wisdom on pursuing this expensive ad at a time when so many worldwide are struggling because of the pandemic, and CGM remains unaffordable for many. He noted how some wondered why Dexcom didn’t opt to use the money instead to help struggling PWDs to afford the G6 and needed sensors.

Holmes wrapped up his critique by writing: “Watching an expensive commercial for an item much of its intended audience can’t afford, from a company with enormous cash flow, starring and paying someone who will never have to worry about the price of insulin, at a time when people are losing their jobs and therefore their insurance, I can’t help but think: ‘Really?'”