It's been called a bowel lizard and a walking colon, nicknamed Bubble Guts, and compared to both a dinosaur and Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks. "It" is Valeant Pharmaceuticals' ($VRX) newest spokes-character, the pink and jiggly "Gut Guy" starring in TV ads for its IBS-D treatment, Xifaxan.
But that's not all people are saying. With a significant TV ad push--real-time ad tracker iSpot.tv noted more than $20 million since it began in October--Gut Guy has gotten noticed. On Twitter, comments skew negative with words like "disturbing" and "creepy," and one tweeter went further with this comment: "An anthropomorphic digestive tract mascot?! We had a good run, humanity."
However, "Gut Guy" also has his fans. At least half a dozen tweets asked for a character "plushy" or doll, while others expressed fondness or empathy for the "cute" and "cuddly" mascot.
"He reminds me of a balloon animal; he's bouncy when he walks. Personally, I feel sympathetic toward him, like 'poor guy, he doesn't feel very well,'" said Niki Strealy, via email. She is a registered and licensed dietician nutritionist who specialized in gastrointestinal issues and is unabashedly straightforward; her web site is DiarrheaDietician.com and her Twitter handle is @DiarrheaRD. "The average person with IBS-D often feels isolated because their digestive issues are very private, and not socially acceptable to discuss openly. These commercials for Xifaxan may allow people with IBS-D to feel confident talking to their doctor about symptoms."Valeant CEO J. Michael Pearson
Valeant did not respond to requests for comment, but in April's first-quarter conference call, CEO J. Michael Pearson foreshadowed the aggressive advertising. He compared the marketing of Xifaxan to its antifungal Jublia campaign, which included a Super Bowl ad. "In terms of our marketing plan for Xifaxan, yes, we will be sort of taking the Jublia approach to Xifaxan but maybe turbocharged a little bit," he said on the call.
As an earlier FiercePharmaMarketing story noted, Pearson believes going directly to patients will drive demand because IBS-D is "pretty simple to self-diagnose." Valeant acquired Xifaxan in its $11 billion buyout of Salix Pharmaceuticals.
Xifaxan was approved by the FDA in May on the same day the regulator greenlighted competitor Actavis' Viberzi. However, because Viberzi is an opioid receptor agonist and potentially addictive, it was classified as a controlled substance and subject to Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) evaluation, which delayed its release. The Dublin drugmaker announced Monday that the med had rolled out in the U.S.
- see the Xifaxan FDA approval news release
- see Allergan's Viberzi launch release
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