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Celebrities Selling Shampoo, Credit Cards, and Disease Awareness?

Since radio stars started hawking products in the 30s and sports heroes began dominating the front of Wheaties cereal boxes in 1958, stars have advertised all sorts of products. Nearly every commercial break on television features at least one celebrity endorsing a product or service. Tina Fey graces hair dye commercials, William Shatner offers the assistance of lawyers, and Alec Baldwin is the face of Capital One. While companies pay these stars tons of money to speak for their product, the bone marrow registry Be The Match seems to have gotten this service for free.

Robin Roberts Diagnosed with MDS

TV anchor Robin Roberts was recently diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a rare blood and bone marrow disease that requires a bone marrow transplant. MDS can be caused by cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Roberts is a breast cancer survivor.

MDS is a rare condition. In the U.S., there are approximately 12,000 new cases diagnosed each year. In comparison, America sees nearly 300,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year.

After Roberts announced her MDS diagnosis on June 11, Be The Match has had 15,000 people register to donate. That is an increase of 11,200 donors, with many of them mentioning Robin Roberts as their reason for donating. Over 70 diseases require bone marrow transplants, including leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle-cell anemia.

Celebrity Endorsement

Simply by announcing her condition, Roberts has done wonders for Be The Match, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. This isn’t the normal advertisement for similar organizations. For example, blood drive companies like Heartland and the American Red Cross use incentives like free T-shirts or ice cream from Baskin Robins to lure in donors. The Susan G. Koman and the Avon breast cancer walks, as well as the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, show survivors and walkers to inspire others to walk for the cause. Will the growth in donations attributed to Roberts’ announcement lead these companies to look for celebrity endorsement?

This would be a big change in the way such companies raise donations for research, as well as awareness of issues. For a rare disease like MDS, Roberts is the face of the disease for many. I would expect organizations will continue utilizing celebrities for raising awareness of rare diseases. What impact does this have on the way we look at diseases and the celebrities who have them?

What will be the long term impact in using celebrities to push preventative measures like mammogram screenings just as they are used to push shampoo and credit cards? The key question will be when a celebrity endorsement is used to initiate attention to a particular disease, what will happen to the awareness, effort, and swell of support when a specific association with a celebrity is discontinued?  All in all – her participation and self-disclosure at least provides an opportunity for this rare disease to continue to promote awareness and contributions for ongoing research.

Send me your thoughts and thanks for reading!

Rebecca S Busch

Patient Healthcare Advocate

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