Ordinarily I wouldn't have given the Lyrica television commercial too much attention. But there sat a spokesperson named Kenny, his name clearly printed in red script on top of a white oval located above his right breast pocket on his custom-work shirt, a middle-aged white man like me, holding his left foot across his right knee talking about a medical problem that we both feel: the "shooting, burning, pins and needles of diabetic nerve pain."
It was odd seeing someone named Kenny on television referring to a problem that not-on-television Kenny also has, though my symptoms are not from diabetes; they're from eight and half years of chemotherapy. Nevertheless, as Babe Ruth said about the sound of his throat-cancer-ravaged voice on "Babe Ruth Day" at Yankee Stadium on April 27, 1947: "It feels just as bad."
Campaign to date, according to ISpot.tv, within the last 30 days, "Kenny's Story," as it's identified, has had "74 commercial airings." And though I don't think for a moment that this Kenny could be confused with that Kenny, considering that he's an auto mechanic who "grew into a free-wheeling kid" and "enjoyed every step of fatherhood," and I'm not "free-wheeling," not a father and know zero about cars, I do feel his pain, literally.
Now the fact that the words of advice are coming from someone named Kenny does give me pause, however. Not that all Kennys have identical personalities or life's experiences, but knowing how little familiarity I have with this product makes me distrust him somehow. My name is Kenny and I'm not prepared to make those statements. How can he? It reminds me of a long-ago M*A*S*H episode when Major Frank Burns was feeling paranoid (as he said: "I'm only paranoid because every one's out to get me") because he thought "someone else is using my face." None of which makes any more sense than my not believing spokesperson-Kenny just because his name happens to be Kenny. But there's no accounting for viewer reaction, probably. That's likely why there were a total "1271 airings" of Lyrica diabetic nerve pain commercials nationally over the last 30 days. "Kenny's Story," at 74 airings, was a small percentage of at least a dozen variations on this theme as well as a parallel campaign to address fibromyalgia, a similar condition also treated by Lyrica.
It's odd, of the multiple spots that have appeared on television, all of which show people living active lives—and being grateful for using Lyrica—only three: "Kim's Salon," "Michael," and yours truly are "given-named." All the others: "Coach," "Grandpa," "School Teacher," "Keep the Beat Going," "Helping Others," as a few examples, are not. I'm wondering if "naming"/invoking names in these spots does in fact personalize the experience for viewers in a way that the pharmaceutical companies think is counterproductive? Maybe naming the spokesperson/sufferer causes a reaction among Kims and Michaels that yours truly is feeling/writing about? Moreover, given that "Big Pharma" probably doesn't want to limit its reach by excluding a segment of the market because of name recognition possibly lends some credence to the presumption that using a name to identify the individual in one of these spots is rare because it's unhelpful. As it relates to these spots and their names, perhaps less is more, given how many research/clinical dollars (hundreds of millions of dollars we're often told) are invested in the process of bringing FDA-approved products to market? Accordingly, I suppose "Big Pharma" can't afford to leave any potential stone/"prescriptee" unturned.
I certainly don't know the answers to any of these questions. I can only wander—and wonder what is it that makes sense here and where I fit into their universe. The commercials have hit their intended target: me, a patient with "shooting, burning, pins and needles" but I have to tell you: I don't like "Kenny."
Mr. Lourie’s columns can be found at www.kennywithcancer.com
"This column is my life as one of the fortunate few; a lung cancer anomaly: a stage IV lung cancer patient who has outlived his doctor’s original prognosis; and I’m glad to share it. It seems to help me cope writing about it. Perhaps it will help you relate reading about it."