MannKind’s Afrezza needs a big turn. Can reality TV and a new commercial get it done?

Afrezza
MannKind's Afrezza is taking the lead sponsor role on a new diabetes reality show as part of a renewed marketing push.

MannKind’s Afrezza is getting ready for a dose of reality. Reality TV, that is, as the lead sponsor of a diabetes reality show set to air on Discovery Life Channel in July. The show, called "Reversed," follows five people with Type 2 diabetes through a 10-day live-in experience in a house in Jamaica and their struggles to change diet, exercise and thinking about the disease.

The show sponsorship is part of a renewed push for Afrezza that MannKind started up after slow sales prompted marketing partner Sanofi to walk away last January. Also part of the push are targeted advertising, such as a USA Today direct mail campaign; sporting events, digital and social efforts, and more recently, point-of-care marketing in physicians’ offices through a deal with Outcome Health.

And coming soon will be the brand’s first TV commercial. Sanofi did launch a print and digital ad campaign in 2015 on behalf of Afrezza soon after the drug launched. The “Surprise it’s Insulin” work, however, did not include TV advertising, although fans and investors in the drug have been pushing for it.

Michael Castagna, who recently became CEO of MannKind in late May after serving as chief commercial officer for more than a year, said at an annual shareholder meeting on May 18, “I think we’re finally getting to that place where our field force is in place, they’re executing, they’re getting momentum, and they’re really doing what they need to do. The medical team is kicking things off, the marketing team is filming the commercial—literally half of them aren’t here today because they’re out there filming in L.A.—the commercial that all of you have been asking for.”

He didn’t say when or where the TV ad will air, but he last year told investors that a mass market DTC campaign would be too broad, so it’s likely the ad will be targeted to its core diabetes audience.

While MannKind is sponsoring the “docu-series” show, it did not get involved with storylines or show content, said Johnny Chung, who joined MannKind as senior director of marketing in February, in an email interview. Chung came from Amgen, which is also where Castagna came from.

MannKind will be able to air TV ads during the series, he said, but any “mention of Afrezza that may appear during the actual program would be completely independent of MannKind and at the sole discretion of the healthcare providers and patients participating in the program."

“Reversed” was a TV show idea for which host Charles Mattocks had been looking for a backer for several years. Mattocks, the nephew of reggae legend Bob Marley, is a former celebrity chef who became a diabetes advocate after he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He has written books, made films and traveled around the country, including in a Shire-sponsored “Diabetic You RV Tour” in 2013.

Mattocks is also outspoken and sometimes controversial. He has been critical of both the pharma industry and national diabetes organizations in the past. For instance, the cover of the debut issue of his Reversed magazine, shown on his website, teases one story as “War on Prescription Drugs.”

More recently, on June 9, he posted on Twitter “@AmDiabetesAssn is one thing wrong with diabetes. One reason I don't like doing events with them. Let's be honest. It's all about money.” Days later, he posted on Instagram that he “had a great time at the ADA event” adding that “the ada did a great job.”

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