Khloe Kardashian recently got into hot water online after promoting a medication for treating migraines in adults. The ad alarmed many people, who say sponcon for medication is irresponsible at best, and that influencers are taking it too far by endorsing Big Pharma. Khloe and her team declined to comment on the controversy.
'Celebrity' endorsement of drugs is a step waaaaay to far.#NurtecODT
— Dread Pirate Sex Badger (@jgb00m) November 9, 2020
Late on Monday night, Khloe Kardashian tweeted the sponsored deal she had with Biohaven endorsing their medication for treating migraines. In her statement, Khloe revealed that she’s experienced a “life with #migraine,” and that with the help of Nurtec ODT she is “dreaming bigger.” The social media commercial also came with a trending hashtag for Nurtec ODT, the medication for migraines made by the drug company Biohaven.
The hashtag was soon flooded with trolling and serious criticism about the ad.
“Is #NurtecODT a bronzer?” one person tweeted jokingly. “Celebrity sponsored drugs is a big no from me,” another Twitter user wrote.
i miss korean food #NurtecODT
— licensed driver aspirant (@samovarchai) November 9, 2020
Kardashians have received a lot of backlash for promoting certain products on their social media channel. For example, Khloe herself received heavy criticism for her weight-loss ads for products like Flat Tummy Tea.
And in 2015, her sister Kim Kardashian got in trouble with the FDA for how she advertised morning sickness pills. She was then forced to re-post the content with the drug’s side effects, which hadn’t been included before. This kind of irresponsible promotion of pharmaceutical products is exactly what many are taking issue with.
Why is it problematic?
Of course, Khloe Kardashian is not the only celebrity who does sponsored content for pharmaceutical corporations. In fact, tennis player Serena Williams, who also has migraines, has also recently endorsed a different migraine medicine brand. But the direct-to-consumer marketing that influencers provide is what makes this especially problematic for some. Most fans of influencers follow them for tips, whether its health tips, or style. They follow them for information on what they are wearing, what products they use and like, and often they will emulate their favorite influencers by buying those products. Because the relationship between influencers and their fans operates on what the influencer endorses and what their fans buy into, the endorsement of pharmaceuticals becomes much more concerning. A pharmaceutical product immediately raises the stakes on potential endangerment and personal responsibility exercised by the influencers.
Jeremy Harris Lipschultz, professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who’s written about social media law and ethics, has explained that this kind of digital practice can be “pernicious.”
“With pharmaceutical aspects, we’re talking about public health and we’re talking about individuals’ health. I think that’s a potentially life-or-death issue,” he said. “That certainly raises the level of responsibility that influencers must exercise.”
Moreover, influencers are sometimes pushing products solely to make money, but their fans don’t necessarily take that into account and may interpret those endorsements as quality, trustworthy information.
“It is a bit problematic ethically because, after all, we rely upon physicians to consult their patients on what are their best courses of action. This use of social media influence is designed to arm [the] patient with information that they’re going to take in the doctor’s office. I don’t think it’s scientific information; it’s more persuasion,” said Lipschultz.
“We’re using the potentially powerful influence of an influencer in this case and her credibility with fans to present a message that’s most likely seen as credible and may not take into the account the details, like the side effects that are rattled off at the end of an ad.”
This power imbalance is part of what makes so many uneasy with the Kardashian’s endorsement of drugs.
Why does seeing Khloe Kardashian as the face of a migraine medication make me so angry? I guess it’s because we don’t need “influencers” telling us what fucking drugs to take… 🤷🏻♀️
— DaneAh (@dane_ah) November 10, 2020
— Amanda Rogers (@1mmaStatistic) November 10, 2020
Others commented that Khloe’s Nurtec ODT ad serves as a sad symbol for the American healthcare system.
a promoted ad for migraine medication featuring khloe kardashian appearing on my tl at 3 am is the best explanation of the american healthcare system I can possibly give https://t.co/w5QpNE9AFj
— chlour seasons total landscaping (@chlomill_) November 9, 2020
What do you think? Is it unethical for influencers to push pharmaceuticals on their fan base?