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GlaxoSmithKline Throws John McEnroe Under the Bus

It has been my pleasure (and, occasionally, my displeasure) to work with celebrities in cause campaigns over the years.
  • Shannon Miller, the most decorated US female gymnast ever, told me scary stalker stories on a long drive together on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.
  • Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was not quite lucid the night I escorted him through a charity cocktail party.
  • I once put $5,000 on my credit card to pay for a dinner for 15 sponsor reps, Grammy-winner Amy Grant, and me.
  • I walked into Kenny Loggins’ dressing room one time when he had his hair up in curlers.
  • One night when I was sitting with actor-singer John Schneider he held forth (at length!) on the topic of females calling themselves ‘actresses’ rather than ‘actors.’
In short, I’ve had a certain amount of experience with celebrities, especially the lower wattage variety. Which is why I’m a little surprised by the way the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline threw John McEnroe under the bus with this ad that appeared in Town & Country magazine in support of several prostate cancer charities.

Down there at the bottom of the page it reads: “GlaxoSmithKline funded and helped develop this campaign, including providing compensation to Mr. McEnroe.”

Let me be clear:

It doesn’t give me much heartburn that John McEnroe making money off of his participation. Would it be preferable if the tennis great was volunteering? Of course. But if McEnroe can give prostate cancer the lift in visibility that it needs, then it’s money well-spent.

Moreover, if McEnroe is going to require compensation, then GlaxoSmithKline should be the entity paying him.

And I think my posts over the last three years demonstrate my commitment to transparency in cause marketing.

But putting that disclosure at the bottom of the ad, to me, disrespects John McEnroe.

Think about it this way: Suppose you work for a charity. That is, you provide some professional service and in return you receive pay from the charity. How would you feel if the cause issued periodic ads that featured your photo with the disclosure you got paid for your work for the cause?

Like all analogies, this one’s imperfect: you're probably not getting paid for your celebrity. But if you’re like me, you’d probably feel slighted by that disclosure, never mind that it’s true.

So how does GlaxoSmithKline be transparent without disrespecting John McEnroe?
  1. When they issued the press release, bring it up then.
  2. If there’s FAQs on the website, note that McEnroe is being paid.
  3. If a member of the public or the press ever asks about McEnroe’s compensation openly and directly answer the question.
But don’t put it in the ads!


Ed Nicholson said…
Interesting. I am not a lawyer--but I've been around plenty of them, and I'll bet GSK has a few. Do you think there's any chance their lawyers were looking at proposed FTC regs when this ad was being put together, thinking, "Disclosure requirements might apply in this case; let's be safe." ?
marry said…
Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

Marketing Dissertation
callalily said…
Your conclusion is immoral. The public is entitled to know whether anybody promoting any cause -- especially a health-related one -- has a vested interest in the result.

PSA screening is highly controversial -- just read the news in the last year. There are cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society who are NOT in favor of it, believing it leads to more adverse consequences than benefits. So when you speak to the public of potential life-and-death issues, you really should identify yourself.

Leah F. Cohen
A project of Malecare
Hi Leah:

I don't think I disagree (except for the part where you call my conclusion immoral).

I didn't suggest that GSK NOT identify that McEnroe as a paid endorser. In fact at the bottom I suggested three ways where they should have done exactly that.

What I did suggest is that they soft sell that fact a little so that McEnroe doesn't appear quite so mercenary.

Thanks for you comment.

Warm regards,

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