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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Keeping it Kompliant with the Kardashians: Influencer Marketing & Pharma

Written by: | | Dated: Monday, May 15th, 2017


Keeping it Kompliant with the Kardashians: Influencer Marketing & Pharma


By Hannah Thurman, Vice President, Director of Channel Planning, DDB Health



Kim Kardashian wants her fans to know that she’s sorry. But not, like, really sorry. In an Instagram post on April 14th, she posted a photo of herself holding a photo of a post she made last August, where she promoted the prescription drug Diclegis – without including any fair balance safety information. At the time, FDA sent a warning letter to Diclegis’ maker, Duchesnay, and the brand removed the post from Instagram.

The media attention that surrounded the initial promotion and warning letter seemed like it might have a chilling effect on pharma brands experimenting in the social influencer space. But now that Kim’s back at it again with a tongue-in-cheek post reminding users of the product (this time, with fair balance), it sets the stage for other brands to make their mark as well. The new post has Kardashian-levels of engagement, with a little under 800k likes and thousands of comments. And while some of the fans complain that the lengthy safety information is stiff sounding and corporate, many others are sharing their positive experiences with Diclegis as well.

These positive comments show the pharma industry what the CPG industry has known for years: that influencer marketing done right can make a big splash. Just ask Gap, whose campaign generated thousands of impressions through simple posts by bloggers, models and other celebrities wearing the brand. Or Arby’s, whose lighthearted partnership with Jon Stewart helped establish themselves as a brand with a sense of humor (they kicked off the partnership with a public tweet telling Stewart he was welcome to come work for them after he ended his stint at The Daily Show).

Of course, pharmaceutical products are much more complex than cardigans or roast beef sandwiches. But even highly-regulated industries with complicated products have been able to successfully leverage influencer marketing. Last year, TD Ameritrade’s “Human Finance Project” empowered the financial advisors that work for the company to use their own social networks to promote the brand. The campaign began by showcasing a handful of professional interviews of these TD Ameritrade employees talking about their passion for helping customers. Now, they’re encouraging all advisors to share their stories using a branded hashtag. These influencers don’t have millions of social followers, but they’ve nevertheless been able to reach a large and personal audience with a branded story.

This small-scale influencer marketing lines up perfectly with the goals of pharma marketers, whose brands may not need to reach the number of targets achieved by a Kardashian post – and whose budgets may not have millions of dollars for social influencer promotion that someone like Gap does.

Fortunately, there has been a recent proliferation of small-scale influencer platforms that aim to connect brands with influencers in a cost effective way. Shoutcart, a self-service platform similar to Adwords, can help users get started for a minimum of $50 ad buy. And Famebit, a video-based influencer platform acquired by Google last year, is set up as a “democratized marketplace” where endorsements start at only $100.

Now that social influencer marketing is affordable and accessible for our industry, it’s time for pharma marketers to start testing the waters. But before adding it to our latest brand plans, we should keep in mind several key principles:


  • Match the content to the right influencers. Extensive social listening and other research can help determine if an influencer is the right fit for your brand.
  • Make sure the voice is authentic. Even Instagram-superstar Kim K got some flak for how stiff the fair balance sounded in her last post. Some of this is impossible to avoid, but it’ll be key to keep as much of the posts as possible in a natural-sounding voice.
  • Keep it compliant. After 2016’s Diclegisgate, brands should make absolutely sure they’re including all of the key information from a regulatory perspective – but it’s also important to keep in mind that influencers should disclose that posts are sponsored in a clear and meaningful way.
  • And lastly: keep it transparent. Recently, the FTC sent 90 letters to Instagram celebs reminding them to “clearly and conspicuously” note when posts are sponsored – not by burying “#sp” or “#partner” in a sea of hashtags.

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