On February 2nd, Dexcom announced some major news: Nick Jonas – yes, the famous guy from that band – is starring in a Dexcom commercial that will be airing in a coveted Super Bowl Sunday advertisement slot.
This is pretty big for a couple of reasons, one being that Nick Jonas is now an official paid Dexcom spokesperson. In addition, this represents the first time that a diabetes company like Dexcom will be airing an ad that will be delivered to millions of Americans at the same time, which is definitely a big deal.
Upon hearing this news, the diabetes online community and I had some intense and justified reactions.
A lot of people expressed frustration that a superstar like Nick Jonas only ever seems to talk about his type 1 diabetes when he’s being paid to do so.
And listen, that frustration is warranted. It’s like the guy is trying to monetize his diabetes and it’s a little gross. There’s collective annoyance that Nick Jonas doesn’t use his (massive) platform and following on a more regular basis to advocate for diabetes. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a lot of us who have created blogs, podcasts, social media profiles, and more in order to help the diabetes community and beyond by doing things like raising awareness and talking about real issues regarding access to necessary diabetes care and medication (and so much more). So when Nick Jonas finally opens up about it, apparently it’s to advertise an expensive piece of technology that isn’t available to all people with diabetes. (And here’s my disclaimer: Yes, I use a Dexcom G6 CGM and I love it. But I’m very aware that I’m fortunate to be able to afford it because others cannot.)
It’s a little difficult for me to sympathize much with Nick Jonas here. Of course, I don’t know him (though I’m sure he’s a lovely guy and obviously he’s quite talented). I have no idea what it’s like to be a celebrity. He’s been in the limelight since he was a teenager. Many of us grew up with him. I can’t imagine what kinds of pressure he’s faced, so something like diabetes (a deeply personal condition) might be tough for him to talk about in a candid manner in front of the mass media. Or maybe he simply doesn’t know how to frame discussions around it. Who knows, but his acceptance of this sponsorship deal warrants the conversations that it has generated. Moreover, I can’t ignore his involvement with a non-profit that’s become infamous for accepting money from big pharma, which is massively problematic in the fight to make insulin affordable for all.
Let me end that line of thought by pointing out that he’s not the only person with diabetes featured in this commercial. There are two other “real-life”, non-celebrities living with diabetes who got this incredible opportunity to be featured in a freakin’ Super Bowl commercial. As someone who has participated in Dexcom ads in the past*, I can understand how exciting this time must be for these two people, and I hope that it isn’t diminished by the diabetes online community’s reaction to Nick Jonas’s appearance and sponsorship deal.
Now let’s pivot to the fact that Dexcom has dropped (probably) millions of dollars to appear in this Super Bowl ad slot…and signing a high-profile celeb like Nick Jonas as a company spokesperson likely wasn’t cheap, either.
It definitely leaves me feeling unsettled. Why did the company feel it was necessary to spend so much on this new advertising campaign? As my friend Stacey put it, Dexcom is putting corporate and celebrity money before patient needs. The reality here is that not everyone can afford insulin, let alone a “gratuitous” piece of diabetes technology like a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor. Elevating diabetes to the national spotlight only does good when it can do something about insulin access and affordability, or to raise awareness about it, or to explain how to recognize the symptoms of diabetes.
To sum it all up, I’ll share a thought from another person I’ve come to know from the diabetes online community: @miss__diabetes. The day that Dexcom announced the commercial, she tweeted:
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
A nicely phrased sentiment as well as a reminder that we’ve got a long way to go in the fight for affordable insulin, don’t you think?
*When I appeared in Dexcom advertisements, I was not compensated beyond the company paying for my transportation, on-set meals, and hotel. If you want to learn more about the experience, I wrote this blog post about it, and I am always open to answering questions.