Slam dunk? Arbor taps O’Neal for heart failure drug's first consumer push

Shaquille O'Neal for Arbor BiDil campaign
Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal partners with Arbor and BiDil to raise awareness about African Americans increased risk for heart failure. (Arbor Pharmaceuticals)

Arbor Pharmaceuticals' tipoff for consumer marketing enlists former NBA basketball star Shaquille O’Neal as frontman for longtime heart failure drug BiDil. O’Neal is the first spokesperson for the drug, which was approved in conjunction with other heart medicines in 2005 specifically for the treatment of African-American heart failure patients.

Since acquiring it in late 2011, Arbor has mostly marketed the drug only to healthcare providers. But it hasn’t made as much progress as the company expected, Todd Brown, Arbor’s director of marketing for its cardiovascular business, said, so the company is launching the Shaq-backed consumer campaign.

RELATED: China's Fosun, Shanghai Pharma circle Georgia drugmaker Arbor for U.S. beef-up

“Part of the solution, in our effort to close the gap, is to mobilize patients and mobilize caregivers … so they can be better self-advocates when they’re in healthcare situations with providers and physicians,” Brown said.

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, means the heart isn’t working as well as it should, and African Americans face higher risks than other groups. Research shows they are 20 times more likely to have heart failure before the age of 50 and are more likely to be hospitalized or die from heart failure than white Americans.

O’Neal, who does not have heart failure, launched the three-year partnership with Arbor in New York in mid-March, doing media interviews with the Today Show, BET and others. He will appear in print, digital and social media marketing for BiDil and star on the campaign website “Shaq Gets Real.”

“Even though I don’t personally have heart failure, helping African Americans with this disease is a cause near and dear to my heart,” he says in an online video that features him playing a basketball game of “heart,” instead of “horse,” against himself.

O’Neal is a bit of celebrity endorser extraordinaire, repping a portfolio of brands including IcyHot, Gold Bond, Carnival Cruises and Krispy Kreme. He recently also signed on with the beleaguered pizza brand Papa John’s. O’Neal told an interviewer last year that he only reps products he believes in and specifically chooses brands that appeal more to the middle class.