Slam dunk: Novo Nordisk re-signs NBA Hall of Famer for Victoza marketing

Dominique Wilkins

Former NBA star Dominique Wilkins is going to the hoop again for Novo Nordisk's ($NVO) Victoza. In his second year as spokesman for the drug, Wilkins will tout a "Diabetes Dream Team" theme--and serve as a prize in a Type 2 sweepstakes.

The contest winner gets to meet Wilkins and take home a diabetes support team package, including sessions with an educator and a personal trainer.

"The intent is for him to not only help people identify with the problem, but also the team around him and the importance of support," said Martin Jernigan, VP of diabetes marketing at Novo Nordisk. "We're trying to make it practical and realistic with Dominique. It's about how he leverages and works with his 'Dream Team' to manage his diabetes."

Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes the year after he retired from basketball at age 40, Wilkins began taking Victoza about three years ago. Around that same time, he started working with Novo Nordisk in unbranded work as an ambassador. He signed on as Victoza spokesman last summer--and obviously, the Danish drugmaker likes the results.

"Fundamentally what I've been really pleased about is how well (Wilkins) articulates the message of education and empowerment," Jernigan told FiercePharmaMarketing.

Wilkins also appears in DTC TV spots for Victoza, though he's not Novo Nordisk's only diabetes celebrity spokesperson. Indy driver Charlie Kimball races the Novo Nordisk sponsored car and uses Levemir and NovoLog to control his Type 1 diabetes. TV chef Paula Deen is a former Victoza spokesperson signed by the brand for a little over a year until Novo, along with many other sponsor brands, dropped her after she admitted to using racial slurs in 2013.

When asked about the use of celebrities for branding in general, Jernigan said, "What we've learned is that you can get the right message across through these celebrities. … If it helps heighten the message, that's our job--to find the best way to reach as many people as we can."

Five years into the life of Victoza, Novo Nordisk believes there is still plenty of awareness to raise and new patients to enlist. Victoza leads the current generation of GLP-1 diabetes drugs with a 72% market share, followed by AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Byetta and Bydureon, and two newer meds, GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Tanzeum and Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Trulicity, as well as Sanofi's ($SNY) Lyxumia, now awaiting approval.

Novo Nordisk has said that the new competition, particularly from Trulicity, won't be a factor in Victoza's growth stats. Growth in the GLP-1 field will make room for competitors in the class, the company has said--and Jernigan echoes that sentiment in discussing the Wilkins campaign. "It's bigger than just Victoza, it's about diabetes," Jernigan said. "We're trying to reach as people as we can about this new class of products and the benefits."

- read the Novo Nordisk news release

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