“Be heard!”, says Allergan. “The voices of 250,000 can influence the dialogue on the obesity epidemic and help shape policies that can make a real difference in our efforts to reduce the obesity epidemic.”

That’s the pitch of Allergan’s new “social media” “C.H.O.I.C.E.” (“Choosing Health over Obesity Inspiring Change through Empowerment”) campaign, a core element of which is a petition to Congress to propose “legislation for obesity treatment and weight-loss surgery options like adjustable gastric banding for the morbidly obese.”

The petition is really an ad for weight-loss surgery. It states:

“Weight-loss surgery has been proven more effective than diet and exercise alone in people 100 pounds or more overweight – and it’s the only treatment proven to be effective long-term … With less invasive procedures available (like gastric banding), weight-loss surgery has the potential to be a catalyst for change in the health of our citizens and the financial stability of our healthcare system.”

Allergan doesn’t have to include fair balance in the petition, because it doesn’t mention its particular brand of “gastric banding” (ie, LAP-BAND).

This “social media” campaign includes a Facebook page and a Twitter account (@choicecampaign). I joined the “cause” on Facebook and am now following @choicecampaign.

LAP-BAND patients can also enter a contest by submitting videos to the Voice My C.H.O.I.C.E. contest program. Winners will get an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC to be rolled out in front of cameras lobbying Congress for ” increased attention” to surgery. Since contestants must already have had the procedure performed, I assume they will be “showcases” for how effective the surgery is.

Allergan’s stated goal is to get 250,000 morbidly obese people (defined as being 100 or more pounds overweight) to “sign” its petition. Although I do not qualify as one of the “estimated” 15 million people in the US who are morbidly obese, I signed the petition and checked off the following options:

  • Yes. I would like to receive future email communications from Allergan about the C.H.O.I.C.E. Campaign and the LAP-BAND® System.
  • Yes, Allergan may contact me by mail regarding news and information about the C.H.O.I.C.E. Campaign and the LAP-BAND® System.
  • Yes, Allergan may contact me by phone regarding news and information about the C.H.O.I.C.E. Campaign and the LAP-BAND® System.

This record of my CHOICEs will remind me that I specifically said it was OK for Allergan to call me by phone, which I hope it does. I recall the time another pharma company called me by phone and invited me to participate in a focus group of one about erectile dysfunction, another condition affecting millions of Americans (see “My Sojourn as Market Research Subject for Levitra“).

If Allergan calls me and invites me to another focus group — maybe held at its headquarters in Irvine, California — I will demur and say I am too overweight to leave my house let alone fit in an airplane coach seat. If they offer first-class, all expenses paid travel, I will have to reconsider. I suppose I could rent a “fat suit” and fool them.

But, seriously Allergan, do you really think you can get 250,000 morbidly obese people to sign your petition? First of all, what’s in it for them? Obviously, it’s a benefit to Allergan. The petition only asks that Congress pay “increased attention” to the surgery solution. I guess that means money given to somebody because that’s what Congress does. Is Allergan suggesting that Congress give obese people “fat vouchers” redeemable to cover certain costs of the surgery. I understand a lot of insurance companies may be reluctant to cover the costs of surgery. Is Allergan interested in getting Congress to force more insurance companies to offer coverage?

Despite the benefits to morbidly obese patients of signing the petition, I doubt that Allergan will motivate 250,000 of them to sign like I did. While 250,000 represents only 1.6% of the “estimated” 15 million morbidly obese people in the US, the C.H.O.I.C.E. campaign is not likely to reach that entire audience. If it were to reach 50% of that audience, 250,000 signatures would be a 3.2% response rate — which is pretty high for such a campaign.

Many experts are wondering how to measure the effectiveness of social media campaigns like this one. What’s the ROI? In this case, the effectiveness can easily be measured by how close Allergan gets to its 250,000 goal. I am not sure what timeframe Allergan has set to achieve that goal, but I hope they issue periodic reports telling me how many people have signed (remember, Allergan, you can call me).

NOTE: Another social media campaign with a publicly disclosed goal is BI’s DRIVE4COPD campaign, which has a goal of reaching 1 million to take their “screener” questionnaire. So far, after 2 or 3 months, it looks like BI has reached only 76,109 people (ie, only 7.6% of their goal). BI “estimates” that “24 million Americans may have COPD. About half of those have not been diagnosed.” So, a goal to reach 1 million out of 12 million (8% response rate) is even more ambitious than Allergan’s “social media” ROI (a 3.2% response rate).