Kim Kardashian followers push back at her latest Diclegis-backing Instagram post

Kim Kardashian, shown here backstage at a 2010 charity event, is back on Instagram promoting Duchesnay’s antinausea drug Diclegis, this time with side effects listed.

Kim Kardashian is back on social media plugging for pharma. But unlike her Instagram post two years ago for Duchesnay’s antinausea drug Diclegis, which resulted in an FDA warning letter, this #Ad includes an extensive laundry list of potential side effects.

The current post clearly refers back to Kardashian's first Diclegis Instagram. It's displayed on the phone Kardashian is holding in the new post. And she opened the new post with, “Remember this?”

Kardashian landed in hot water for initially promoting Diclegis on Instagram in 2015 without listing any side effects. The post instead included a non-approved one-click link to side effects. The FDA pounced, slapping a warning letter on Duchesnay and demanding reparations.

So what’s the problem this time? Fan and media complaints. Many are irritated by the obvious “paid by pharma” shill, the unwieldy list of risks and the fact that she’s not even pregnant this time. The Instagram comments illustrate the pitfalls drugmakers face using that platform—and signing celebrities to spread the word—but the post's performance numbers show why pharma needs to forge ahead anyway, experts said. 

The more than 7,200 comments from fans included plenty of jabs about shilling for pharma, such as, “Omg. Promoting prescription drugs on Insta ... this is a whole new low.” There were also complaints about too much fine print—the post had 73 words of Kardashian chat, but 254 words of side effect warnings. As one person wrote, “This almost has the reverse affect with all the small print!”

So far, the post, which went up on Thursday, has more than 790,000 likes. Kardashian’s original FDA line-crossing Diclegis post had 490,000 before it was pulled after about 3 weeks online.

That means this post was more effective, right? Not necessarily.

“What resulted, whether it was the goal or not, was a significant amount of post-level engagement and free PR,” said Doug Weinbrenner, VP of engagement strategy at FCB Health’s Area 23, in an email interview. “(But) what it did not garner, and perhaps one of the most important metrics, is branded engagement on their site.

"While overall traffic saw an obvious uptick the days following the post, time spent on their site was consistent with levels prior to the promotion. In shopping terms, they had more people drive by, but they still had the same amount of walk-ins.”

Even as the media piled on about Kardashian’s past issues with the FDA and questioning the timing of the new post, readers and fans likely don’t even remember the initial flap, said Michael Spitz, VP of strategy at Klick Health.

“From our vantage point as pharma marketers, she's audaciously bringing up the FDA problem—but outside advertising circles, it’s doubtful that her audience ever knew, remembers, or even cares that the original ad was violative and controversial," Spitz said in an email interview. "Instead, the brand gets a new boost with a star-powered testimonial from one of the world's most famous moms."

Spitz also noted that the use of celebrities in general in pharma marketing is a double-edged sword. It can offer immediate name recognition and buzz, but can also present risks to a brand's reputation. And it can trigger increased scrutiny from the FDA and FTC around endorsements.

Weinbrenner said branded pharma needs to respect audiences’ personal feelings about health. Of this particular play, he said, “That doesn't mean all messaging needs to be serious … I'm a big fan of bringing creative and tasteful levity to health marketing. However, grabbing attention for attention's sake, especially through a once-failed celebrity promotion, doesn't seem to take on that posture.”