GlaxoSmithKline Allies With Web For Diet Launch

As the maker of the first weight-loss drug with regulatory approval, GlaxoSmithKline faced a dilemma: how to differentiate its product, Alli, from the many fly-by-night remedies promising weight loss without effort. To get users to buy into its assertion that long-term weight loss can only be achieved in combination with lifestyle changes, the pharma company is taking a page from Yahoo and MySpace by constructing its own portal that in many ways resembles a social network.

To accomplish this, GSK is joining the ranks of advertisers that are using the Web to become content creators and build communities around their products, like Anheuser-Busch’s ambitions with Bud.TV and the vibrant running community Nike has tapped with

For Alli, due to launch in June or July, the Web is not just a marketing conduit, but an essential component of the product. Unlike many diet pills, Alli is marketed as a complement to a strict diet and exercise regimen. The over-the-counter drug, which blocks fat production in the intestines, can increase weight loss by 50 percent, GSK claims. But only if users commit to a regimen of proper eating and exercise—a long-term lifestyle change—and a six-month program of the drug, said Steve Burton, vp of weight control for GSK’s consumer healthcare division.

“It’s an innovative and honest voice in a landscape that’s filled with products that make exaggerated claims,” he said.

GSK’s interactive agency, Dallas-based independent imc2, has built a Web portal for Alli users that goes beyond providing product information. will be available to Alli users through a registration code on each packet. The site will collect the users’ weight-loss profiles, build customized meal plans and provide feedback on their progress. Visitors will then get customized advice, with the system sensing, for example, if they have hit a wall in their weight loss and need to adjust their daily calorie intake. Message boards and blogs will let users advise and encourage each other, and advice from experts will be available.

“It truly is designed as a destination to help people not just educate themselves, but to help them along the way,” said Beth Kuykendall, vp and managing director of imc2.

Although consumers are turning more and more to the Web for health information, there is evidence that there is a dearth of content to satisfy demand, said Larry Mickelberg, svp of strategy at Medical Broadcasting Company, a Digitas-owned pharma agency in Philadelphia. He noted that over 80 percent of Web users have searched for healthcare information, yet under 20 percent found satisfactory answers, according to a 2006 study from Jupiter Research. Pharma companies have the resources to fill that gap, he said. “There’s already latent demand in the marketplace that’s not being served by most pharmaceutical marketers,” he said. “Their audience has beaten them to the Internet.”

With that in mind, GSK launched, a site dedicated to debunking myths about fad diets and weight-loss supplements, before Alli had received FDA approval. The site does not mention Alli, though it carries notice that it was built by GSK. Burton said the main purpose of the site was “public service,” although it did collect visitors’ e-mail addresses.

GSK is taking its publisher role a step further in its pre-launch marketing with the release of a 140-page book, Are You Losing It?, which aims to deliver sensible weight-loss information, and 20 pages of Alli background.

While GSK said it’s keen to be seen as a trusted source of information about weight loss, pharma companies should tread lightly when doubling as content publishers, said Brad Aronson, evp at Avenue A/Razorfish. It is often more effective, even for new treatments, to partner with already trusted health publishers and communities, like WebMD and

“They’re not going to the pharmaceutical company to learn about a disease or condition,” he said. “We want to be realistic that for conditions where there’s a lot content out there they’re not going to look to us for that content.”