Merck taps celeb chef to deliver diabetes message to Hispanics

Back in April, Merck ($MRK) rolled out its America's Diabetes Challenge: Get to Your Goals campaign. It's a typical Type 2 diabetes effort, aimed at persuading patients to do what it takes to keep their blood sugar in check. Now, Merck has a new-but-similar campaign launching, but with a tighter focus: the Hispanic community, which is disproportionately affected by the disease.

To get its message across to the demographic, the pharma giant teamed up with celebrity chef and cookbook author Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, who has a family history of Type 2 diabetes. Schwartz will visit select cities to cook diabetes-friendly Latin recipes and encourage Hispanics to set and attain blood sugar level targets. Surprisingly enough, it's among the few pharma efforts aimed at the key Latino market.

The Desafiando La Diabetes: Logra Tus Metas (Defying Diabetes: Achieve Your Goals) effort does have goals similar to those of the broader campaign. But the tweaks for the Hispanic market are important, Linda Lane Gonzalez, chair-elect of AHAA: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing, told FiercePharmaMarketing. "A couple smaller pharmaceutical companies have said the same message they're using in the general market can be used with Hispanics, and that's absolutely untrue," she said. "The way Hispanics look at their health is completely different."

Linda Lane Gonzalez

For one, she said, Hispanics culturally "live for today"--meaning a campaign like this one, focused on adapting patients' lifestyles after diagnosis, will be more successful than one pushing Hispanics to be diagnosed and checked.

That's good news for Merck, which could use a diabetes sales boost to pull it through tough times. Still struggling after sustaining the blow of generic competition to top drug Singulair--which weighed pharma sales down 8% in 2013--Merck has looked to top dog Januvia to buoy its top line. Some, though, have said the diabetes heavyweight could be plateauing, with lower U.S. sales sinking the med's 2013 haul by 2%.

So Merck is going where its pharma peers haven't gone much lately. While Hispanics in the U.S. stand at a higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic white adults, few marketing campaigns have been aimed directly at that patient pool--or at the Hispanic population in general. Compared with other industries, pharma is "so far behind" when it comes to Hispanic marketing, Gonzalez said.

"They definitely have the money to put behind a budget that would be very effective, but I don't really know why they're not doing it," she said. "I wish I had an answer."

- read the release

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