LifeScan Marketing Gone Awry

I am just cringing here, Folks. CRINGING.

In what I consider to be a prime example of patient exploitation, J&J LifeScan stepped over the line late last week when it sent out a so-called “Public Service Announcement” (PSA) pitch to bloggers about its OneTouch UltraMini “Splash of Color” campaign. The email alert I received, which I assume was also blasted out to a whole host of diabetes and health bloggers, insists that “choice of color may help diabetics feel less clinical and more personal about their diabetes, which will encourage them to test regularly” — which they claim translates into “an important health message to diabetics.”

Therefore LifeScan’s promotional agency WestGlen Communications implores, “We are hoping you can place the banner and Public Service Announcement pro bono” — meaning that we bloggers should be willing to post on our sites for free a variety of promotional banners in pre-packaged sizes (or the agency can resize it to fit your blog) all for the greater good of the diabetes community, of course.

Check out THIS VIDEO that LifeScan’s agency is pushing, and prepare to CRINGE.

What’s wrong with this so-called “PSA”? Oy, where should I start?

First off, the video doesn’t even pretend to be a public service announcement, defined as “a non-commercial advertisement, ostensibly broadcast for the public good.” Instead, it is a blatant (and very colorful) product campaign! “OneTouch is giving away 10,000 color monitors as part of this public awareness initiative.” You can also enter the UltraMini Meter Sweepstakes for a chance to win an iPod Nano.

For God’s sake, iPods come in exciting colors, too, but at least Apple’s not pretending to bolster public health.

How about that color consultant, who very nearly makes the Amway lady in Roger & Me (who presumably wasn’t paid for her services) look insightful? “People have a series of complex reactions about color…, ” the LifeScan-hired color gal says. “People with diabetes will benefit … because it brings in an element of personal choice… colors pack in positive symbolism.” Hey, green is life-sustaining, the color of vegetation, and don’t forget that pink is happy!

Hmm, personal choice in diabetes products could be beneficial, ay? At least that I agree with.

I just wanted to note how disappointed I am in LifeScan here, not least because I do think the UltraMini is a useful and well-designed product, which also comes in attractive colors. Therefore I had hoped LifeScan would become an advertiser here in the not-too-distant future. Ouch.

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38 Responses

  1. Michael Park
    Michael Park October 6, 2007 at 5:54 pm | | Reply

    Haha, that was funny. I would expect that an expert in colour theory would be able to go deeper into the tones of the colour or something.
    This just reinforces the fact that aside from CGM, there have been no new developments in glucose meters in near a decade.
    Side note, those are the lamest colours ever – silver and black barely even count as colours!
    Nevertheless, don’t make more out of this than there is; it’s not unethical, just stupid and pointless.

  2. Kathleen Weaver
    Kathleen Weaver October 6, 2007 at 6:14 pm | | Reply

    Hmm, I feel neglected, I didn’t get one.

  3. Amber
    Amber October 6, 2007 at 6:14 pm | | Reply

    If they really wanted to do an important public service, they would give away 10,000 boxes of STRIPS instead of the meters. The meters are useless if you cannot afford the strips, or don’t have insurance that will pay for them for you. To me, that seems to be a slightly more important matter than whether the color of my meter matches my dress.

  4. Elijah Meyer
    Elijah Meyer October 6, 2007 at 7:24 pm | | Reply

    WOW. And because 10,000 lucky diabetics will get to pick the color of that free meter, they’ll be testing like crazy, throwing mountains of cash at OneTouch for the extra test strips they’ll no doubt require. How altruistic of them.

    In the past two years, I’ve gotten three free blood glucose meters from my endocrinologist. The manufacturers give them to him with reckless abandon, because five test strips a day 365 days a year equals roughly $1460.

  5. Allison
    Allison October 6, 2007 at 7:48 pm | | Reply

    I received this email too and, as I do with anything remotely resembling an advertisement, promptly ignored it. I completely agree with everything that you wrote. It’s not that having the colors is a bad thing – I don’t even think giving away the product is bad because, hey, you have to test anyway, don’t you? But I think they went above and beyond ridiculousness with this “PSA” and the whole banner system. I think this is one case of somebody in their PR saying, “Hey, wouldn’t doing something in new media be really cool?”

    Yeah, them and everybody else.

  6. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson October 6, 2007 at 8:53 pm | | Reply

    Yep, I got it. Like Allison I pretty much threw it away.

    How about some tools that will really help us live our lives with D? While I don’t mind the whole color thing, I don’t really feel it qualifies as much of a revolutionary, life changing tool just because it has a new color.

  7. Sara
    Sara October 6, 2007 at 11:10 pm | | Reply

    I wonder if that’s related to the e-mail I got from OneTouch Gold. Signed up on their site to get a free meter and clearly indicated Type 1. The subject of the e-mail – Turn Around Your Type 2 :|

  8. Michelle
    Michelle October 7, 2007 at 5:30 am | | Reply

    Has anyone here ever paid for a meter? Not me, and we have at last count 6 freestyle flash, (3 actively in use, home, school, grandmas) 2 precision extras, a one touch, an aviva(sp), a BD, and one other that I can’t think of the name. The meters are free. Lets not let that little tidbit get by. They are free. This one touch campaign is akin to the junkie in the schoolyard handing out freebies, “just this once”. They know once you try it you might become hooked and the real goods, the strips, are where they make their money.

    The real public service initiative would be to hand out strips to every PWD who needs them.

  9. Susan
    Susan October 7, 2007 at 6:51 am | | Reply

    I am a new type 2 and scared. My MD gave me one of those One Touch Mini thingies and some strips. Now I find I have to buy strips by the ‘amount greater than medicare and my insurance will pay for.’

    It’s like the razor companies. They sold the razors cheaply but you had to keep buying new blades.

    Ouch. (Just learning to stick myself and black and blue.)

  10. Dave Wendel
    Dave Wendel October 7, 2007 at 7:45 am | | Reply

    While I agree this is quite absurd it really isn’t even worth blogging about because it just bolsters their campaign.

  11. riva
    riva October 7, 2007 at 7:47 am | | Reply

    Just to play Devil’s Advocate, since that seems my role in life lately, think beyond the obvious ridiculousness of calling this a public service ad. Yep, in that regard this is a blatant ad for the UltraMini Meter.

    But here’s findings I heard recently that you can relate to this (s)ex-ploitation of color. A study was conducted wherein half the residents of an old age home were given three choices about how to design their residence, and half were not. The half who had the opportunity to make personal choices about their environment’s furnishings — including color, design, pattern, etc, had half the deaths two years later as the group that had no choices.

    I do believe personal choice is empowering and color is an emotional driver. Maybe since these meters are cute and colorful more people will test more. But while the move to color may have been a helpful one for some patients, the declaration that this is a public service ad and wanting bloggers to carry it, was presumptous, deceptive, arrogant and smacks of hubris. You know most things are not mutually exclusive: color can be good and lying can be bad.

  12. Jessica Hickok
    Jessica Hickok October 7, 2007 at 10:06 am | | Reply

    That video is wrong on so many levels. I guess you are a “happier diabetic” with your pink meter, but I’m a “diabetic living in a more vegitative state” with my green meter. It doesn’t make sense. I like the idea of the colors for the meters, just not promoted like that.

  13. JasonJayhawk
    JasonJayhawk October 7, 2007 at 10:56 am | | Reply

    Wow! I’m going to need some string to wire my jaw back to the “closed” position!

    Why do I suspect that Lifescan and/or their advertisement agency does not hire Type 1 diabetics in their planning?

    Boardroom: “Yeah, offering colors will make them buy more strips, so let’s give some meters away for free!” Thinks to self: ‘Maybe I’ll get a raise this year!’

  14. Craig Williams
    Craig Williams October 7, 2007 at 11:43 am | | Reply

    Amen to all the previous comments. In case someone from Lifescan takes note, and they’d like to find a better method to distinguish their product, a meter with better than a +/- 20% error in the results would be much more valuable to me than a green, pink, or blue meter.

  15. M
    M October 7, 2007 at 3:27 pm | | Reply

    Well said Craig. Though I think colour choices etc are great for us – and I do agree that colours can influence our feelings towards things, I still don’t think they’re working on the important stuff.

    I don’t want a smaller, faster meter – I want an ACCURATE meter.

    I’m highly disappointed every time I do side by side testing between my 3 meters. The difference from the lowest to highest can be huge. How can I ever expect to have good enough control with meters that don’t tell me the truth? How can I trust my decisions with insulin when I can’t trust the BG reading I’m basing my dosage on?

    Anyhoo, I’ve digressed… I think it’s a little rude expecting free advertising, however they’re probably aware that they’re offering something a lot of people have been asking for. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

    Dunno about that tacky ‘PSA’!

  16. Naomi
    Naomi October 7, 2007 at 5:13 pm | | Reply

    I agree with so many of the above comments — although it is nice to have a color choice, it is so much better to have more accurate meters, or a better method of delivering insulin. But it is horrible for One Touch to promote this video as a PSA, when it is so obviously a sales pitch…

  17. Amylia
    Amylia October 8, 2007 at 5:47 am | | Reply

    Barf.

    I can’t believe how lame that commercial is. I kinda liked the Mini before I saw that. Now I know I’m not getting one. Mostly because of what I’ve heard others say about its lack of accuracy. I just read Cara’s post over on her blog and many others who, like me, are annoyed that the results on the meters vary so much. I have never paid for a meter, but the amount I’ve spent on the strips is sick. Seriously sick. We’re making these companies rich, and the best they can do is that color theory lady?

    Barf again.

    I agree colors are kinda nice, but seriously–if that’s the best you can do-if that’s all you can offer, then something is seriously lacking with your product.

  18. Penny
    Penny October 8, 2007 at 6:03 am | | Reply

    I think I’ll have to get all of the colors now. So, when Riley feels sad about sticking his little fingers, I’ll pull out the pink machine to make him happy.

    When he feels like the world has turned against him because of his stupid disease, I will test him with the green meter in order to make him feel “lucky”.

    And, when this disease makes him feel weak, I’ll test with black to make him feel powerful.

    No need to get the silver, his Freestyle is that color already.

    Lifescan is really stretching it with this one.

  19. Becky
    Becky October 8, 2007 at 7:04 am | | Reply

    Wow – I never knew that green was universal for luck – I just always remember snickering on the back of the bus about what green m&m’s do to you! That us why when I was given the chance to get this meter, I made sure to order pink for my daughter, not green!!!!

    Actually, we got pink because she likes pink, not because of any color association. And because I had a hundred of the strips at home already.

    Now for my 9 year old, she likes it cause it’s pink, and she wants to know why I didn’t get her the blue one!

  20. RichW
    RichW October 8, 2007 at 7:55 am | | Reply

    I really like the commercials that advertise painless testing. The actor or actress says they don’t have to prick their fingers anymore. I’m going to hit the next person who asks me why I still prick my fingers when there are new devices that don’t require blood. They tell me about the latest commercial they saw. I’m not high strung and they’ve pushed me over the edge.

  21. Open The Dialogue
    Open The Dialogue October 8, 2007 at 8:40 am | | Reply

    When PSAs fail to be PSAs – on YouTube

    Following the Chris Thilk-inspired LOTD from earlier today, I’m taking that same tack. I had forgotten to post a link to this key item from the Bad Pitch Blog from last month, when Kevin Dugan posted a short quiz for…

  22. badshoe
    badshoe October 8, 2007 at 8:41 am | | Reply

    Color is all well and good it helps us keep track of which of the two kids with T1′s metere is which.

    Now the cases come in your choice of black so you have to open it to see the meter color.

    The mini is huge. Want a small meter buy a can of strips with the meter in the cap. It called a SideKick. 25-30 bucks for 50 strips and a meter.

    It doesn’t allow the download of data but niether dose a mini. Maybe they can come out witha Mini II that downloads and is actually small.

  23. Mike
    Mike October 8, 2007 at 8:51 am | | Reply

    I read the email and I actually voted for orange (I dig orange). But the Mini meters lack a way to download the numbers to my PC (which seems silly). Thankfully, since my wife just switched to the OmniPod, all our new strips will be Freestyle only (although I have a year’s worth of OneTouch strips to bleed through now).

  24. Hannah
    Hannah October 8, 2007 at 9:21 am | | Reply

    I agree with most people that this “PSA” (gag) is a bad choice, and in poor taste. If I want somebody telling me what colors will improve how I feel about myself, it’s going to be a makeup expert telling me about eyeshadow, not a hippy-dippy color lady telling me my pink meter should make me feel happy.

    And yet, I ended up with a free pink Mini about 2 months back, and I am definitely happy with it. It’s nicely designed, and pink, and doesn’t require me to carry a monster-sized purse. I have nothing to complain about.

    As for those of us who rant, rave and rage how companies should be giving us test strips for free, consider this: do any companies give us insulin for free? pump supplies? syringes? oral meds?

    Of course not, because they are companies. Businesses. And until the face of health care changes in this country from focusing on the profits behind the pharmaceuticals to focusing on the well-being of the patients who benefit from using them, we’ll never get free test strips.

    And with type 2 on the rise, of course marketing efforts will focus on type 2.

    Personally, I like LifeScan’s products. Maybe we all need to write some letters/emails to their PR/Marketing folks and let them know that we want some REAL input from people who actually HAVE diabetes in these campaigns.

  25. Susan
    Susan October 8, 2007 at 11:59 am | | Reply

    You know who will respond to colorful meters? Teenagers.

    This “color consultant” is gag-worthy and will repel the market that likely will respond.

    Instead if making it a PSA, make it a music video.

    Big companies are so stupid.

  26. David Detmers
    David Detmers October 8, 2007 at 12:55 pm | | Reply

    I am the Director of Communications for LifeScan. We are aware of this issue and want you to know that promoting this campaign as a Public Service was inappropriate and not authorized by LifeScan. We will provide Amy Tenderich with a more thorough written explanation shortly. However, we wanted to make all DiabetesMine readers aware that this was not intentional and we apologize.

  27. madbard
    madbard October 8, 2007 at 1:20 pm | | Reply

    1. Nice to see someone at LifeScan being proactive, although the proof, as always, is in the tasting of the pudding….

    2. It is not just the web but everywhere you need to be wary of these “video news releases”:
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4561627

    and

    http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2005/04/08/03

  28. kelly
    kelly October 8, 2007 at 5:56 pm | | Reply

    This didn’t sound at all to me like LIfeScan so i’m really glad to hear we’ll be learning more and there were some mistakes. (everyone makes mistakes.) … this is NOT the company “live life without limites”! i did read recently about the giveaway for ultramini and ipods – what sounded good to me was some reference to diabetes related pod-casts on the iPods so i entered the drawing – always psyched to see the focus on new media and Amy, thanks for propelling us forward as always…

  29. Sarah
    Sarah October 8, 2007 at 6:36 pm | | Reply

    Wow. This is so funny. We (diabetics) are a joke to be exploited. They must think we are stupid. Perhaps we are. Yes, a hot pink meter solves my diabetes! Instant control!

    Type 2 diabetics who have the disease because they are obese/overweight: Get off your duff, lose the weight, eat right, cut out the crap, and exercise at least 1 hour a day. Do it. Don’t get angry at me, save your energy for Big Pharma and the companies that want you to suffer and pay them to live. Why pay for treatment you may not need to have?

    I am saying this to HELP you, believe it or not. We wouldn’t be in such a (Type 2)diabetes epidemic if more people would step up and say what needs to be said. If changes are made early, Type 2 diabetes does NOT have to be progressive. That is a myth that the ADA loves to promote so people don’t feel guilty, and keep donating. It is a conflict of interest for ADA to speak the truth. Help yourself before it is too late.

    Type 1 diabetics: It is sad that no better technology exists for us. We are always lumped in with the Type 2 diabetics as having a “manageable” disease and blamed when things go wrong. If I wanted a funky colored meter, I’d paint mine myself. Unfortunately, I have more important diabetes issues to worry about. The amount of money spent on this ad campaign for colored meters could have gone to much better use.

    This “PSA” is insulting to our intelligence, and highlights the fact that diabetics are cash cows.

    I do thank Amy for her posting on this…this is flat out ridiculous.

  30. Jim Paige
    Jim Paige October 8, 2007 at 6:40 pm | | Reply

    I wondered what happened to airhead teenagers after they grow up – they become “COLOR CONSULTANTS” and opine on how powerful colored meters are for diabetics…..

  31. Albert
    Albert October 9, 2007 at 6:42 am | | Reply

    Great job Amy on getting Lifescan to notice. I think this is perfect example of what Chrissie was referring to in one of her recent posts. It’s nice to know that our collective muscle really makes a difference.

  32. Anne
    Anne October 9, 2007 at 10:47 am | | Reply

    Hello lifescan, dexcom, medtronic, whoever:
    Make a meter that is as accurate as blood glucose testing and doesn’t require me to bleed 10 times a day, or to have anything stuck in me. Is it so impossible? If a dog can detect low BGs (check out dogs4diabetics) then there must be some chemical signal we’re missing.

    I know it’s hard but can you just do it anyway? It’s the right thing and although you won’t be making $billions on test strips/sensors/other-exorbitantly-priced disposable parts, somehow you will be repaid.

    Then you can make lame youtube videos about how green is lucky and we will love you anyway.

  33. Bill the diabetesdoc
    Bill the diabetesdoc October 24, 2007 at 8:48 am | | Reply

    I had received the e-mails promoting the pseudo-PSA, and have been watching this discussion recently. I contacted the person who sent the e-mail and argued that it wasn’t a PSA; she responded that indeed it was. Here are her two e-mails; first the original:

    I’m hoping you can help spread an important health message to diabetics by posting the attached banner on your website. This banner links to a Public Service Announcement about colored monitors, and explains how choice of color may help diabetics feel less clinical and more personal about their diabetes, which will encourage them to test regularly.
    OneTouch is giving away 10,000 color monitors as part of this public awareness initiative. Here is a link to the PSA: http://www.hhrtv.com/online/lifescan.html

    Will you please support this public awareness effort and post the banner on your website? It is best to open the banner in Internet Explorer, as there are 4 slides. The banner is available in 728 x 90, 468×60, 300×250, 120×600, 140×140 or we can resize it to your specifications. Please let me know what banner size works best for you.

    Best Regards,

    and her response to a question I asked:

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your response. It is a public service awareness campaign, so there is no budget provided by Lifescan. We were hoping you could place the banner in the space of an unsold ad? Please take a moment to view the banner and public service announcement. Thank you.

    Best Regards,

    Well, I later contacted her boss at the PR firm, and he indicated that she was quite wrong, and that it was not meant to be a PSA. And he indicated that yes, they had retained the master list of the folks she’d contacted, and would send out an apology for the misinformation.

    But no apology has arrived at my e-mail address. I’m beginning to think that none will be, either.

    Oh well. Another marketing failure. Sort of like Exubera, eh?

  34. Bennet
    Bennet October 26, 2007 at 7:20 am | | Reply

    David Detmers wrote: “I am the Director of Communications for LifeScan… …promoting this campaign as a Public Service was inappropriate and not authorized by LifeScan. We will provide Amy Tenderich with a more thorough written explanation shortly.”

    So Amy did you ever hear from the guy?

  35. AmyT
    AmyT October 26, 2007 at 8:31 am | | Reply

    Actually yes, I did hear from David Detmers, Director of Communications for LifeScan. They were very humble about the whole snafu.

    They sent me a more formal apology letter, which I declined to post because all it did was blame the agency.

    However, I’m glad David posted here to make a statement directly to our community.

  36. Albert
    Albert December 11, 2007 at 9:18 am | | Reply

    Scary how it’s been 2 month since this post and it still/now shows up as the 3rd result when you Google “Lifescan”.

    A clear example of what the community can do… Pharma Beware!

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