Rethinking The Business Of Wellness

With “Allies” Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

You’ve heard of Alli, right? It’s the new over-the-counter weight loss drug that offers “intestinal leakage” if you continue eating a high-fat diet while taking the drug.

I happened to visit a local mall this weekend and was astonished and fascinated to see Alli being marketed with the fanfare normally reserved for movies. It’s all part of the “Alli Tour” (yes, that’s what they’re calling it) – coming soon to a shopping mall near you.

Huge banners hung all over the mall, as you’ll see below (these images are cropped a bit to fit – just click them to see the full image):

Here’s the first enormous banner:

And I’ve circled four more in red – there were actually a total of seven more banners hung from the rafters:

And then….there was the blindingly white booth. Picture a standalone booth – I figure around 20′ x 20′, give or take:

And a couple of shots of the inside:

Although you can’t see it in either of these pictures, the signage at the main entrance emphasizes Alli’s approval by the FDA. It’s staffed by folks who hand out materials and chat with visitors – not sure what their training is. The overall effect is quasi-clinical.

They also gave me a very nicely (and expensively) packaged packet of information that contained a recipe card, a 140+-page guide to losing weight through lifestyle change, a sheet of refrigerator magnets (sample: “If you don’t buy it, you can’t fry it”), a two-week meal plan, a data sheet on orlistat (Alli’s active ingredient), a shopping list pad, and a few other goodies.

The materials talk about healthy eating and exercise plus the usual lifestyle hints – but this kind of marketing budget tells the tale. While you have to look long and hard to find GlaxoKlineSmith’s name anywhere on the materials, make no mistake: this is another massive product launch brought you by Big Pharma. And despite the cynical emphasis on the “most important ingredient in successful weight loss: you”, it’s clear that GSK is marketing this to folks looking for a silver bullet. After all, if diet and exercise had worked, they wouldn’t be interested in Alli, right?

What are you hearing from your clients and customers? Are people trying this? Are they cynical or optimistic about it?

Post your comments below (and don’t worry – we won’t display your email).

4 Responses

  1. Jay

    I give them credit. They could have just quoted some stats from their clinical trials study on avg lbs. lost and sold it by the truckload. They are at least making an effort to elicit some responsibility on the part of the consumer, patient, etc. And the fact that it comes with some healthy tools (did I understand that correctly?) is great. Intestinal leakage sounds a bit unpleasant. But I would guess that if anything would deter fat consumption, that would. Its too early to see any patterns of response among our clients. I am not going to be too judgemental on this one. If it teaches people not to eat too much fat, it may just work.

  2. Leslie Nolen

    Yes, it definitely comes with some healthy lifestyle tools…we’ll get some pix of the materials posted tomorrow…

  3. I think this product is a total sham. In order to take Alli, you have to reduce fat intake, or pay the consequences (i.e. carry an extra pair of undies). If people actually change their lifestyle like they suggest they should lose weight without this product. It should be illegal to lead innocent people on like this.

  4. Dan

    We have been following the marketing and studies on the product for a while, so we were curious to see what would happen when it hit the market. As expected, there are a lot of angry health professionals proclaiming that all it does is promote eating a lower fat diet to prevent the “issues” with digestion, etc. We try, as an industry, to get people to pay more attention to what they consume, and we have found, without exception, that everyone KNOWS how they are supposed to eat and what is considered healthy eating (if you don’t believe me, offer one of your weight loss clients a free session if they can go to a supermarket and buy twenty healthy food items…I can practically guarantee they can find the healthy stuff when they have an incentive to do so. The problem is getting them to do it just because it is good for them.) We did a short experiment with the product when it came out, and the clients that had no problem eating correctly noticed no difference when they took it, the ones who claimed they had “no control” over their eating experienced some of the discomfort Alli warned them about, but nothing requiring a change of underwear or anything so extreme. Big question: Will it help? If people are slow to adopt healthy eating habits, this will make them pay attention to their eating, but if they do not educate themselves on a HEALTHY diet, they will just end up replacing the fat calories with increased calories somewhere else. And then they end up the same place they do when they try the other diet trends, frustrated and with a little (or a lot)less money in their pockets. The company that makes Alli will profit well from the product, all of the research costs were already recovered by the pharmacuetical version, so this is a big money maker for them, but we can look at it as another tool to help people build healthy lifestyles. It would be great if everyone did it just because they should, but if they did, we would all be out of work, wouldn’t we?

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