Novo Nordisk casts Queen Latifah in TV-themed awareness campaign for obesity

Queen Latifah plays a doctor in a TV-themed video for Novo Nordisk's "It's Bigger Than Me" obesity awareness campaign launched ahead of its planned DTC ads for recently approved Wegovy, which is on track for early 2022. (Novo Nordisk)

Novo Nordisk takes a page from three popular TV genres—medical drama, '90s sitcom and procedural crime show—by casting actress Queen Latifah in a new video series awareness campaign that aims to change minds about obesity.

The first video opens with the rushing of a gurney through a hospital corridor as Queen Latifah, clad in scrubs, asks a worried wife about the patient’s symptoms.

“It’s stigma,” Latifah finally announces, making the grim diagnosis. As a monitor beeps furiously in the background, she later adds: “The only way we’re going to beat this thing is if we talk about it.”

Getting people to talk openly about obesity—and seek treatment—is one of the bigger challenges Novo faces as it sets out to conquer the largely untapped obesity market with its new weight loss drug Wegovy, which won FDA approval in June.

That means steering the narrative away from “blame, shame, bias and stigma” and toward empathy and understanding, Mark Materacky, Novo’s vice president of consumer marketing, said. 

“Our mission is to help people understand that obesity is a manageable health condition, not a character flaw,” he explained. 

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The unbranded campaign, called “It’s Bigger Than Me,” comes as Novo has been ramping up its obesity education and awareness efforts ahead of its planned DTC ad launch for Wegovy, which Materacky said is on track for early 2022. 

Last month, the drugmaker partnered with retail pharmacy giant CVS Health on a new obesity support program for people who have already been prescribed a weight loss med and also rolled out a physician education site, Rethink Obesity, to persuade doctors to discuss obesity treatment with patients.

On the latest TV-themed campaign, Novo worked closely with Queen Latifah to create the series of videos, which appear on YouTube, Instagram and a dedicated website. Her willingness to share her own weight struggles made her “the perfect ambassador to really inspire our audience—and also give them something to aspire to,” Materacky said. 

In a clip that mimics a '90s sitcom, complete with laugh track, Queen Latifah commiserates over lunch with a friend who is fed up with dieting and hunger, noting, “But this is bigger than us, and our DNA is part of it.”

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In the crime sketch, she plays a detective who presses a witness to give up the goods on “the perp”—seemingly obesity—though it's never mentioned in any of the videos by name. (The company's research found the audience would tune out at even the sound of the word.)

In the final segment, shot in a dressing room, Queen Latifah breaks character and speaks directly to the audience.

“I’ve experienced being judged by others because of my weight. I know the negative effect it can have on you,” she says. “But I never let that stop me, and neither should you.”

Novo is bullish on Wegovy’s potential to disrupt the obesity market, thanks to its efficacy edge over other weight loss meds including Novo’s own Saxenda. Late-stage testing showed Wegovy, which is a high-dose version of diabetes med Ozempic, helped patients achieve and sustain an average of 15% weight loss over 68 weeks compared to only 5% weight loss on average for Saxenda.

The drugmaker hopes to more than double its obesity sales over its 2019 baseline by 2025, Chief Financial Officer Karsten Knudsen said on an investor call just after Wegovy was approved.