Pfizer aims to inject youth into the aging process

Written by New York Times | Updated: Jul 17 2014, 20:39pm hrs
PfizerTo that list of acronyms, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer hopes to add FOGO, a.k.a. fear of getting old.
Acronyms seem to be growing more prevalent in the vernacular, among them BOGO, for buy one, get one; YOLO, you only live once; and FOMO, fear of missing out. To that list, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer hopes to add FOGO, a.k.a. fear of getting old.

Pfizer No. 51 on the Fortune 500, with revenue last year of $53.8 billion is promulgating FOGO as it refocuses an initiative, carrying the theme Get old, that was introduced in 2012. The initiative, intended to stimulate conversations on subjects like aging and longevity of life, is being augmented, beginning on Wednesday, with additional content that is online and on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Signaling this push are the introduction of a hashtag, #FOGO, and a decision by Pfizer to bring in Huge, an agency that specializes in digital advertising, to create and produce the new content. (The original work was created by SS&K in New York.)

Conquer your fears of getting old at, consumers will be urged. Fear less. Live longer. There is also a #FOGO Quiz that offers this advice: Its time to tell the truth about aging. The less you fear it, the more youll enjoy it. In fact, it can be the best time of your life. So join us and get old with a new attitude. Pfizer is spending about $3 million a year on the Get old initiative, which is meant to help burnish the Pfizer image rather than promote Pfizer prescription drugs or over-the-counter products. It is only lightly branded, carrying small advisories that read, Brought to you by Pfizer.

The companys image may need a little polishing after Pfizer recently abandoned an effort to buy a competitor, AstraZeneca. That acquisition could have included a relocation to Britain, where AstraZeneca is based, from New York, where Pfizer was founded in 1849, for tax purposes. Pfizer executives may have wanted to reach for one of their products, Advil, after reading reactions to the takeover bid like this one in the July 21 issue of Time magazine by Rana Foroohar, assistant managing editor in charge of economics and business: The deal made little strategic sense and probably would have destroyed thousands of jobs as well as slowed research at both companies. (Public outcry to that effect eventually helped scuttle the plan.) The articles headline by itself could have brought on headaches: Wall Streets Values Are Strangling American Business.

Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a research and brand-loyalty consultancy in New York, said: Theres always a benefit to a brand when consumers have a better sense of who you are and what you do. But you could say that about any category.

This is also emblematic of what has happened over the past decade, with consumers having access to more information than ever before through online research, Mr. Passikoff said, so companies are saying, I better create a paradigm where people know me better.

Pfizer is one of those companies that everyone has heard of, he added, but you dont tell your doctor, I would really prefer to have a GlaxoSmithKline product if I can. Youre going to listen to what your doctor says, which is why drug companies spend all that money on advertising to doctors.

According to research conducted by Pfizer at the end of last year, perceptions of the company among consumers who visited improved by 55 percentage points.

This is not about selling a product, its about our philosophy, reintroducing ourselves, said Sally Susman, the executive vice president for corporate affairs of Pfizer who is overseeing the initiative. The goal, she said, is a steady sense of engagement, not over-marketing or overselling.

The idea is that rather than telling people what we think all the time, we want to listen, she added. We want people to pull this to them, not have it pushed at them, she said.