Exubera — Pfizer’s new insulin delivery system for the treatment of diabetes — has not been well-received so far by physicians and payers (see “Pfizer’s Inhaled Insulin Fails to Impress Doctors, Insurers“). People with diabetes also seem to dislike the “bong” as it is affectionately called by some (see “Are you happy to see me, or is that just your Exubera Bong?“).

My friend Sunil S Chiplunkar, author of the Pharmaceutical Healthcare Blog, posted the following little limerick to the Forums at Pharma Marketing Network. I have edited it somewhat (see the original here):

Pfizer with high hopes, launched the Exubera bong
Thought it would click like a gong
But missing is physician exuberance
All it got was malevolence
So will Exubera bomb?

If Exubera were actually to crash and burn it would be a serious blow to Pfizer, not to mention its new CEO, Jeffrey Kindler who escaped blame for the torcetrapib failure (see “torcetrapib: “$800 Million” Failure but Kindler Safe“). After the “$800 million” failure of torceptrapib , neither Pfizer nor its new CEO Kindler can afford another “$800 million” loss.

I know, I know … Pfizer won’t mention how much it spent developing Exubera. But, believe me, it was $800 million to $1.2 billion. That’s what the industry always says it costs to develop a new drug. I don’t want to get into THAT argument again. For background, see “Tufts Hangs Tough on Opportunity Cost Analysis.”

Pfizer’s Exubera Strategy: The Usual Pharma Marketing Suspects
So what is Pfizer planning to do to prevent the Exubera bong from bombing? According to the AP story cited above, the strategy involves the “usual pharmaceutical marketing suspects”:

“Pfizer already has hired approximately 900 part-time diabetes educators to explain the product to doctors and patients, and more will be added, although the company won’t say how many. A small, non-branded ad campaign for the drug that doesn’t mention Exubera by name started recently, and a bigger direct-to-consumer marketing effort will debut during the second quarter.”

What a missed opportunity to enlist social media (ie, blogging, etc) to the cause!

Perhaps the folks at Pfizer don’t realize it, but the company is faced with a public perception (ie, PR) problem, not a marketing problem. Bringing out the heavy marketing guns — which everyone knows involves a lot of bullshit (see my thoughts on marketing BS here) — will only add to the problem.

IMHO, Pfizer needs a NEW approcah:

Those 800 diabetes educators should be blogging! I suggest starting a Bong BlogTM.

Yeah, yeah, there are all sorts of reasons why pharmaceutical companies should NOT be blogging. But c’mon! If a gazillion-dollar pharmaceutical behemoth like Pfizer can’t figure it out, then I would contend the industry is not very innovative after all.

Pfizer, here’s what I suggest: Hire a few of us bloggers (who really want to see the industry succeed) to come in and give you some ideas in a two-day workshop. Say at a remote location like Aruba or Atlantis so your guys won’t be distracted by OIG investigator calls and such. (We need to be someplace where our blackberries don’t work.)

I propose that the workshops be scheduled early in the morning, recess for 4-5 hours for golf and beach activities, then resume with a lavish dinner followed by a PPT presentation and capped off with a live show.

Aside from the kidding about a resort retreat, I am serious. A few of us bloggers have talked privately about this kind of workshop already while attending the recent Healthcare Blogging Summit.

Pfizer, if you are interested in talking more about this (off the record), give me a call at 215-504-4164 or email me at johnmack@virsci.com.

BTW, I know a few out-of-work or soon to be out-of-work former Pfizer employees that can be involved. By hiring me as a blogger consultant, you can also give them some employment. Wouldn’t that be good?

DISCLOSURE: I often consult with pharmaceutical companies on matters not directly involving specific marketing campaigns, but about use of technology for marketing communications and about privacy and regulatory matters. In the past I have worked for Pfizer in this capacity. I am currently under contract with a third party that provides Pfizer an internal report on healthcare trends likely to affect the industry.

P.S. Will the reporter who called me yesterday on my cell phone and left a message, please call again. Somehow I accidentally deleted all my voicemail messages while getting off the plane from Vegas last night. Sorry!