On Sunday evening Dexcom gladly thrust itself into the spotlight, and under the microscope, with its first Super Bowl ad for its G6 continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
The 30-second commercial featured celebrity Type 1 diabetic Nick Jonas naming recent technological marvels, from self-driving cars to the Mars rover, and then asking the camera incredulously, “And people with diabetes are still pricking their fingers? What?!?”
The big ad immediately became the most talked-about subject in the diabetes online community. And opinions were mixed, to say the least.
The commercial generated both excitement and anger. Some people with diabetes were delighted to see their condition addressed on television’s biggest stage. Negative responses—which could be found on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and just about everywhere—mostly focused on the apparent callousness with which Dexcom promoted its very expensive product, one that is out of reach for many people with diabetes.
Nick Jonas is the advocate of a privileged life with #type1diabetes. Doing super bowl ads tells the rest of the world that diabetics are living their best life with diabetes technology when the reality is diabetics are dying because they can’t afford insulin. #Insulin4all
— Miss Diabetes (@miss__diabetes) February 3, 2021
For a detailed rundown of the controversy, and an insightful personal response to boot, I recommend this essay by Esquire author Dave Holmes.
The cost of diabetes, and especially of insulin, remains the most sensitive of issues in the Type 1 diabetes world. And although the pandemic has largely captured the attention of our media and politicians in the last year, the insulin affordability crisis has gotten worse, not better. In a nation where nearly half of people with Type 1 diabetes struggle to afford the insulin that they would die without, Dexcom’s message appeared blithe and tone deaf to many.
Is Dexcom worried about the controversy? Probably not too much. The ad certainly did its job: the company’s visibility skyrocketed overnight, and apparently its stock price even went up. A Dexcom spokesman told Esquire that “running an ad during the Super Bowl is one of the most impactful ways to support and energize our ongoing efforts to make CGM accessible to everyone who can benefit from it.”
Medscape’s Miriam Tucker reached out to Beyond Type 1, a nonprofit of which Jonas is a co-founder, for a response to the controversy. The organization defended Jonas’ involvement, stating that Jonas has been a fierce advocate for insulin access and affordability. For example, he recently helped to launch Getinsulin.org, a resource that aims to help find affordable insulin for people with diabetes.
While the ad prompted emotional debate in the Type 1 diabetes community, it’s important to remember that people with Type 1 were probably not the real target of the ad. In fact, the ad rather strikingly does not refer to “type 1” at any point. This ad wasn’t made for the fewer than 2 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes, most of whom are already aware of continuous glucose monitoring technology; it was made for the 34 million with Type 2, and for the many family members, caretakers and medical professionals who love and care for them.
While the Dexcom G6 is still mostly associated with Type 1 diabetes—and it is essentially only people with Type 1 diabetes that can get any insurance coverage for Dexcom equipment—the company’s big expansion strategy is to establish itself as the standard of care for Type 2 diabetes. And as we noted earlier this week, Dexcom’s growth should be a good thing for people with Type 1, at least in the long term; larger markets usually inspire competition and drive efficiency and price decreases.
Dexcom may step more cautiously in the future, but its commitment to increased visibility and growth should eventually mean good things for the diabetes community.