While Wegovy reshaped public attitudes about obesity, its maker Novo Nordisk oversaw critical reputational threats, highlighting that product success alone cannot safeguard pharma companies without a comprehensive, data-driven reputation management strategy.
The big picture: When promoting Wegovy, Novo Nordisk initiated a shift in the public perception of obesity in two main ways:
- Tackling stigma: Its large-scale publicity campaign featuring US rapper Queen Latifah played a crucial role in normalising obesity treatments.
- Introducing a more informed view: Its comms strategy focused on the crucial role of brain chemistry in weight management, reframing obesity not just as a matter of personal willpower but as a complex interplay of biological factors.
How Novo did it: This was achieved thanks to the effective messaging of the company’s spokespeople, who, according to our analysis of 3,263 English-language articles published in the last two years, became the most influential spokespeople in the whole obesity debate:
- For instance, Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, Novo Nordisk’s Chief Executive Officer, was frequently cited as stating that obesity is not merely about diet and exercise but also about genetic components.
- When commenting on trial data that supported use of Wegovy to cut heart attacks and strokes, Jorgensen noted how treating obesity is not just about appearance but about real health benefits.
- This narrative was bolstered by Martin Holst Lange, Executive Vice President for Development at Novo, who was widely cited as saying that the trial data will change how the condition is regarded and treated.
What our analysis found: Despite these successes, the company’s reputation is far from shiny.
- By employing issues landscaping in our analysis of 795 English-language articles around Novo Nordisk, we found that the company’s reputation is under threat from several media narratives, most notably the ethics of its promotion practices:
Zoom in: Delving deeper, our issues landscaping found that the most prominent media story in the promotion practices issue was its two-year suspension from the UK’s Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) for breaking its code with undisclosed sponsorships which amounted to “bribing health professionals with an inducement to prescribe”.
- The second most prominent message centred around the revelation that Novo Nordisk funnelled £21.7 million into a “well-orchestrated PR campaign”, targeting health organisations and professionals who praised the company’s treatments without revealing their financial ties.
- In the meantime, public health advocacy groups alleged that certain news broadcasts served as a promotional platform for Wegovy, without disclosing the drug’s risks.
The key takeaways: Our analysis suggests three main takeaways for PR and comms in the pharma sector:
- A strong brand doesn’t always guarantee a strong reputation. Novo Nordisk’s weight loss medication success hasn’t shielded it from reputation risks. Short-term brand wins can’t mask long-term reputation issues; these inevitably damage public trust and financial performance.
- In pharma, ethics is as critical as innovation. Novo Nordisk’s positive product coverage contrasts with its questionable marketing practices. Lack of transparency around funding, especially in media interactions, casts a negative light. Openness about industry funding reduces public alarm.
- Data-driven PR often outweighs push marketing. Many pharma companies overemphasise advertising and sales over proactive PR. While push marketing yields quick results, investing in data-driven PR protects long-term success by proactively managing reputation and maintaining public trust.
How Commetric can help
- Our case study demonstrated that in multifaceted and sensitive topics like obesity, Commetric’s issues landscaping can emerge as a critical strategic tool, uncovering the nuanced sub-issues, conversation clusters, and key opinion leaders (KOLs) driving the debate.
- This enables pharma companies to understand and navigate the complex media landscape around obesity treatments, ensuring they address the right concerns and engage effectively with their audience.
- Our approach allows for the proactive management of reputational threats and the strategic positioning of pharma brands within the broader health and wellness discourse.