History of the Pharmaguy Pioneer Hawaiian Shirt

The yellow and black Hawaiian shirt is the symbol of the Pharmaguy Social Media Pioneer Award, better known as the “Pharmaguy Pioneer Award” for short.

What began as an outlandish ploy to grab attention has gradually become one of the most iconic and recognizable trophies in digital pharmaceutical marketing.

After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would hold a public hearing regarding regulation of pharma’s use of the Internet and social media in November, 2009 (here), Pharmaguy started appearing at conferences in the iconic shirt, which was left over from a Hunter S. Thompson Halloween costume (here).

Left: Pharmaguy as Hunter S. Thompson at a 2009 Halloween party.
Right: Pharmaguy at the 3rd Annual Digital Pharma East “un” conference
(there is some controversy regarding the sequence of these events)

That Halloween season was a scary time and attendees of the 3rd Annual Digital Pharma East “un” conferences anticipated much “fear in loathing” in Washington, DC at the upcoming FDA hearing!

Despite its seemingly everlasting significance, Pharmaguy’s Hawaiian Shirt was first given to a pharmaceutical social media marketing pioneer in 2010, when Alex Butler of Janssen Pharmaceuticals literally was given the shirt off Pharmaguy’s back in recognition of his social media pioneering work (see image at left). 

Recipients of the Pharmaguy Pioneer Award are allowed to keep the Hawaiian shirt for one year. During that time, they can display the shirt and even wear it occasionally. Davide Bottalico, MD, former Digital Marketing Manager at Roche, Italy, donned the shirt during a photo shoot at the IAB Forum 2013 in Milano, Italy (see photo below).

Some Pharmaguy Pioneer Award recipients wear the Hawaiian shirt in Public
Left: Davide Bottalico, Right: Jaclyn Fonteyne

Here’s Jesus del Valle, Head of Bayer Grants4Apps, wearing the shirt at his Berlin Headquarters.

The Hawaiian shirt is certainly among the most intriguing and distinguished items in the digital pharma marketing world, and it may very well be the most well protected. That was, at least, until Jaclyn Fonteyne, Social Media Specialist at Boehringer Ingelheim, wore it while celebrating in a London pub in January, 2015 (see photo above). Luckily, the shirt was none the worse for it!

While there may be imitators — such as the shirts worn by the Boehringer Ingelheim social media team in their acceptance video (see below) — there’s only one authentic Hawaiian shirt in the annals of pharmaceutical marketing!