Pfizer and singer Patti LaBelle 'prank' baby boomers in new pneumonia vaccine effort

Pfizer HQ
Pfizer launched a new awareness campaign about the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia starring iconic singer Patti LaBelle.

Pfizer has tapped a legendary singer to raise awareness about the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia for older adults. In an online video, Patti LaBelle plays judge for a fake backup singer audition. Baby boomer singers take the stage to perform, but there's one catch: The microphones have been rigged to make it sound like the singers have pneumococcal pneumonia, with coughing and wheezing overtaking their songs.

LaBelle clues in the singers with an “I got you,” while a voiceover explains the risk for people over 65 and encourages them to get a “new attitude”—one of LaBelle’s most popular songs—and talk to their doctor about vaccination.

The awareness effort is called “All About Your Boom,” and it will appear online at the campaign website as well as on social channels, including Facebook and YouTube, a Pfizer spokeswoman said via email. Pfizer already has another awareness campaign about the danger of pneumococcal pneumonia, created in conjunction with the American Lung Association, called "Who Pneu?" That effort, which once featured celebrity actor Tim Daly but now showcases everyday people who have had the disease, will continue.

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Pfizer chose LaBelle, 73, because “she embodied what it means to be a boomer. … She wants to remind fellow boomers that a big part of staying healthy that is often overlooked is staying up-to-date on CDC-recommended adult vaccinations,” the Pfizer spokeswoman said.

The campaign comes as flu season begins, a time when many people aged 65 and older go to their doctor for a flu shot, so the reminder to ask about the pneumonia vaccine is meant to coincide with that, she said.

Pfizer’s vaccination for pneumococcal pneumonia is Prevnar 13, which in branded TV advertising has tallied $30.3 million in national spending so far this year, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker The bulk of that was spent in the first four months of the year, with a break for the summer, and ads just recently came back on the air at the beginning of September.

RELATED: Pfizer's Prevnar 13 sales set for decline as patient pool shrinks, report says

Prevnar 13 sales were $5.72 billion for 2016, although that haul was down from $6.25 billion in 2017. The company saw an uptake in vaccination after the CDC in 2014 recommended it for adults age 65 and older, but that wave left Pfizer with a hard-to-convert group of remaining potential consumers.

“We know that the remaining consumer population is really unique—they have unique challenges and unique barriers,” Christa Albeck, senior product manager at Pfizer Vaccines, said during a presentation at April's DTC National Conference, acknowledging that “we have a lot of work ahead of us."

Going forward, the pharma needs a campaign that’ll “resonate with this hard-to-reach, hard-to-activate population,” she continued. But “we’re up for the task.”