dLife and the Diabetes Media Conundrum

“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.” Underdog_1 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.

* “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).   


9 Responses

  1. Bernard Farrell
    Bernard Farrell December 14, 2006 at 7:42 am | | Reply

    I’ve been impressed with the few dLife programs that I’ve seen. Unfortunately I’ve got to watch them on the web, and that’s so much effort that I don’t normally do so.

    When I first heard this program was being aired I was very excited. I think anything that raises awareness can’t be a bad thing.

    dLife folks, have you ever considered making your programs available for re-broadcast on local cable channels? In my community those local channels are displaying dead air a great deal of the time.

    If you wanted to do this I could try and make the connections with my town and another larger one nearby. That way maybe more folks, including myself, could benefit from the great programming.

  2. Scott
    Scott December 14, 2006 at 8:05 am | | Reply

    I think skepticism is healthy, as so many snake-oil salesmen pitching “miracle cures” for diabetes are out there doing more harm than good. Those who aren’t appear incredibly greedy, or make downright unbelievable claims (such as “our meter enables ‘vitually pain free’” testing).

    Calling things like they are is vital to credibility, and occasionally, that may offend advertisers. If an organization defines their role as serving the information needs of a particular group first, and advertisers second, that builds credibility. Unfortunately, as businesses, many put advertisers ahead of their audience, and as a result, they do serious damage to their credibility.

  3. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson December 14, 2006 at 11:19 am | | Reply

    Excellent post Amy.

    I think that Scott S. has hit the nail on the head.

    For me, it also has a fair amount to do with finding the right balance in a number of ways.

    1) As one with type 1 diabetes, I recognize that I am in the minority in terms of the general diabetes population. But I am still hesitant to devote a lot of my watching/reading time to things devoted to the majority, type 2 diabetes.

    2) As someone with a lot of years under my belt, I again don’t want to devote that time to things that are maybe directed to folks relatively newly diagnosed.

    Where’s the balance? I can’t say – it’s terribly hard to find.

    I also have to admit that I feel a certain degree of frustration when I’m bombarded by advertisements that are probably directed towards type 2 diabetes, and that seem to prey on false hopes of an easy solution.

    For example, in a magazine recently I noticed opposite page ads for a couple of pills. “Glucose Balance” and “Glucose Tolerance”. Both are over the counter pills. For the record, they do have a disclaimer that the statements made in the ad have not been evaluated by the FDA, and the product is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.

    I have no personal experience with them. The ads just rubbed me the wrong way.

    Diabetes is an expensive disease to live with, and it seems the snake-oil salesmen never, ever stop coming out of the woodwork.

    There are people getting filthy rich off diabetes, and it is frustrating to see such slow progress towards a cure, or even better tools!

    We are almost always automatically on the defensive about such ads because we have to be!

    So, how does an organization such as dLife stay true to themselves while having to submit to the grasps of advertising to stay in business? That is the million dollar question.

  4. Siana Wood
    Siana Wood December 14, 2006 at 1:25 pm | | Reply

    I’d like to add my 2 cents as well. I consider myself a pretty positive person, but my big gripe with “diabetes media” – as a 32-year old Type 1 with several complications – is that I don’t feel there’s enough out there that tells the truth about diabetes – that sometimes, it’s really damned hard, and that while there’s a lot of talk about “you can prevent or delay complications,” no one really talks about what it’s like to be young (or young-ish) and have complications. Or the emphasis seems to be on, “oh, you must have managed your diabetes poorly.” Nope. The real, ugly truth is sometimes that no matter how hard we try, sometimes diabetes disables us in our prime, or makes us choose between pregnancy and our health, or work and our health, and I would give anything to see more that tells that side of the story instead of “be good and this won’t happen to you.” (Again, I consider myself to be a positive person, but I firmly believe that one of the keys to dealing with adversity is having messages/people that say, “you’re right – this really does suck.” And THEN help empower you to get on your feet and manage whatever you can, with the resources you have.

  5. Michael Park
    Michael Park December 14, 2006 at 1:57 pm | | Reply

    I wonder how different things are in the U.S. Do you not have the same offers as we do, where companies will offer their meters for free with the purchase of 100 strips?
    I’m always tickled when I think of people complaining about the pain of testing. How long does it really take to get used to the little prick? Imagine that each time you test and you maybe say “ouch that hurts” prolonging your pain and inflicting it on others for about a second or two…
    For someone testing 3 times a day (I can’t imagine only testing that amount)adds up to two minutes of complaining a month….half and hour of “OUCH OUCH OUCH!” each year…. so why should we inflict that on others.
    Yes, sometimes it does hurt, but not much (and this is coming from a pianist).
    In terms of Type I and Type II disparity in the media, it is incredibly frustrating. Not only the ignorance of people in the general public, but also the issues of research funding.
    I read an article in Men’s Health that was boasting a ‘cure for diabetes’. The info was acutally reasonably researched, but all the supporting data was Type two related and all the contradicting data was Type 1 specific. I was unsure whether this was simply misusing the info in order to present a more interesting story, or if it was pure ignorance…

  6. mcewen
    mcewen December 14, 2006 at 8:02 pm | | Reply

    ‘the pain’ is definitely in the ‘cost’. Other than that, anything ‘techy’ that I can get my diabetic spouse interested in as a lure, has to be a plus.

  7. George
    George December 15, 2006 at 12:12 am | | Reply

    We TiVo dlife each week and watch it as a family. I feel as though they are pretty balanced between T1 and T2 stories although the commercials are not.

    I figure it is the only “D” thing on TV so we have to support it! I think it’s great!

  8. Jo
    Jo December 15, 2006 at 4:17 am | | Reply

    I think the show is too short … a half hour isn’t long enough. And yes, although a T2, it needs to be balanced as much as possible with stuff for both 1s and 2s. I’d like to see it go an hour myself.

  9. Florian
    Florian December 17, 2006 at 6:01 am | | Reply

    I agree with Jo the dLife program should be longer to explore topics in greater depth and detail. I would suggest a panel of long time Type 1′s (25 years or more)who can discuss the things that they have done to get them to where they are today. Real people with diabetes who can talk about their experiences would lend a lot of credibility to the program. Listening to Celebrities with diabetes who have the means to acess the best medical care and help available doesn’t help much.

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