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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.


Great piece. I like your even-handed and humorous approach to it. I find it disheartening, but then again, it's an added $1 million for Make-A-Wish.

Something that struck me--I've seen these ads around town lately (I'm in LA, a smart place for them to debut), but haven't taken a second look. The nature of their good will and partnership with Make-A-Wish went unnoticed by me.


Hi Olivia:

Thanks for the comment and the compliment.

I've just learned that Allergan also does a cause marketing campaign for Botox that benefits the charity 'Dress for Success' and features actress/singer Vanessa Williams.

Here's a link:

Warm regards,
Howard said…
Nationwide, prescription pills have become a societal force. Adults and children rely on them for a growing list of afflictions, including anxiety, depression, even shyness, for which few alternatives were available a generation ago. Nearly half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug. Meanwhile, direct-to-consumer drug marketing that touts new and expanded uses has become widespread. Adults and children alike are exposed to print, television and radio ads promising happier, more fulfilled lives. For young people, experts say, all these factors appear to have blurred the line between the benefits and dangers of the medications.
Hi Howard:

Thanks for your comment.

I agree that the modern Pharma industry has taken a kind of 'better living through chemicals' approach to developing and marketing drugs.

I do not 'get' Botox, for instance. But I take it that your concern is more than just apparently benign prescribed drugs like Botox.

Marketing, of course, is about push and pull.

It's well-demonstrated that doctors who receive a lot of visits from drug reps prescribe more of those drugs to their patients. That's a push approach.

The same is true of doctors who get a lot of specific drug requests from patients who've seen an ad targeted at them. That's a pull strategy.

Is either (or both approaches) wrong?

I'll leave that decision to the policy makers.

Thanks again for your comments.

Warm regards,

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