Batting Your Eyelashes at Prescription Drug Cause Marketing

I’m a little chary about making sweeping pronouncements, but I believe I've just seen the first cause marketing promotion in the U.S. involving a prescription drug.

The drug is from Allergan and it’s called Latisse, “the first and only FDA-approved prescription treatment for inadequate or not enough eyelashes.” The medical name for this condition is hypotrichosis.

Latisse is lifestyle drug the way Viagra or Propecia are. That is, no one’s going to die (except, perhaps, of embarrassment) if their erectile dysfunction or male pattern baldness or thin eyelashes go untreated.

Which means the positioning for a product like Latisse is a little tricky. Allergan could have gone with the sexy route as with Viagra or Cialis and showed lovely women batting their new longer, thicker, darker eyelashes. But I’ll bet that approach didn’t test well with women.

(I’m reminded of a joke about the Cialis ads from a comedian whose name I can’t recall. He said, “Hey if my erection lasts longer than 3 hours I’m not calling my doctor, I’m calling every one of my friends!”)

Instead Allergan plays it pretty straight with Latisse. But by itself that’s not very sexy. So Allergan brought in actress/model Brooke Shields, who…um… suffers from hypotrichosis, as the face of Latisse.

Allergan, which also makes Botox, took it a step further and added a cause marketing element in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This is not transactional cause marketing, which has the potential to run afoul of the FDA.

Instead, Allergan made a $500,000 donation to Make-A-Wish and offers an additional $5 to the charity for each person who signs for Latisse LashPerks. Allergan’s total potential donation is capped at $1 million and the sign-up period ends Dec. 31, 2009.

LashPerks is a loyalty program. Since Latisse is prescribed by medical doctors, LashPerks is way for Allergan to maintain an unmediated relationship with Latisse users.

A 30-day supply of Latisse starts around $120 but, of course, your price may vary. And naturellement some doctors will require more frequent office visits than others.

I’m not sure what to make of this campaign. Make-A-Wish certainly has plenty of heart, but the strategic fit between Latisse and the charity isn’t clear to me. Women who are spending north of $1,400 a year for longer eyelashes might be dismissed simply as the vain. I don’t know this about Latisse’s audience, but my gut tells me that vain or not they probably are 'aspirational.' That is, I think maybe they would want to do something charitable in addition to seeing a charitable donation made to a charity like Make-A-Wish. It would be fun to test that premise.

The donation amount, $1 million, seems generous except when considered in context of the fact that Allergan is banking on Latisse being a $500 million a year product line.

All that said, I consider this a breakthrough campaign far as I know... it’s the first cause marketing campaign on behalf of a prescription drug.

Pharmaceutical companies, take note.

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