GSK – Again Pushing the Envelope

Last week I wrote about GSK’s alli blog – a blog dedicated to marketing an OTC product.  This week, GSK again drew attention in the marketing world by developing a campaign that raises awareness of genital herpes among African Americans.  The Washington Post carries an article on the campaign in today’s issue with the headline "Herpes Awareness Project Divides Health Officials."

For the life of me, I cannot think why such a campaign would divide health officials, except for the fact that so many in this country are still sex-phobic despite the HIV epidemic which necessarily made discussion of sex more common place in public health circles.

The public is woefully ignorant about genital herpes and there are very few resources available for those who are infected.  If HIV made sexually-related public health discussions more common, it also kind of sucked the oxygen out of the room to look at and discuss many other sexually transmitted diseases.  I can personally relay conversations with people in the gay community – one that is supposed to be a little more savvy about these things than the general consumer I would think – where things are said like — "I would date someone with HIV, but not genital herpes," or my personal favorite, "I thought only straight people got herpes."

Approximately 1 in 5 in the sexually active general population has genital herpes, with higher rates among some subgroups.  Having genital herpes can mean that it can be passed onto a newborn, one can infect a partner without realizing it or one can expose oneself to a greater risk of HIV infection. 

Granted, the campaign is being launched by a company that makes one of the drugs used to treat genital herpes.  I don’t think that matters.  What does matter, I think, is that some health departments decided not to endorse the campaign. 

At any rate, GSK is showing through this effort, and through its blog, that it is taking marketing of pharmaceuticals in new directions.  That alone is refreshing.  If, along the way, some get educated about genital herpes, I say all the better.  I can only imagine that if GSK, as related to this, began a blog about this public health issue, there would be all sorts of people who would use it as an outlet to talk about what this disease has meant in their lives, while health departments have remained silent. 

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