Wednesday, June 20, 2007



My non-librarian lists are abuzz with the OTC release of alli. If you haven't heard of this, it's a new FDA-approved lower-strength dose of Xenical, a prescription weight-loss drug that prevents the absorption of some of the fat in your diet. I think we could take a marketing lesson from these people -- check out what they list under "treatment effects:"

alli™ works by preventing the absorption of some of the fat you eat. The fat passes out of your body, so you may have bowel changes, known as treatment effects. You may get:

  • gas with oily spotting
  • loose stools
  • more frequent stools that may be hard to control

What to expect

The excess fat that passes out of your body is not harmful. In fact, you may recognize it as something that looks like the oil on top of a pizza. Eating a low-fat diet lowers the chance of these bowel changes. Limit fat intake in your meals to an average of 15 grams.


  • You may feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom. Until you have a sense of any treatment effects, it's probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work
  • You may not usually get gassy, but it's a possibility when you take alli. The bathroom is really the best place to go when that happens

Leaving aside the fact that delving too deeply into these effects might put you off eating to the point where you don't need drugs, people are excited about taking this stuff. What can we learn from this, aside from the importance of wearing dark pants?

1) The power of positive spin. Alli suggests users might appreciate these "treatment effects" because they act like a "security guard," making you think twice before eating something you shouldn't -- kind of the Antabuse approach to diet.

2) If people want what you have to offer badly enough, they'll put up with a heck of a lot to get it. Alli's work is mostly done in advance, given our cultural obsession with weight. How do we get to the point where our services are seen as being this essential?

3) The power of community. When users buy alli, they're not just buying pills, they're buying into a customized weight loss plan, an online community where dieters receive personalized feedback and support, and the idea that they are "partnering" with alli in their weight loss efforts. Even the name -- pronounced "ally" -- implies partnership.

4) People are willing to pay for what they value. A 60-pill alli starter pack costs about $49.99, and you're supposed to take about 3 a day. Its manufacturer expects to sell about $1.5 billion worth this year.

5) There are companion books out -- if you work in a public library, you might anticipate demand, or might anticipate a little run on weight-loss and nutrition books in general. Make a display!

6) People love a quick fix. Again, where here can we show that we add value and quickly meet people's needs?

7) People, apparently, appreciate candor. The manufacturer is pretty upfront about alli's effects, positive spin or no, and puts the information right out there. How about that for embracing transparency?

Some of these may be more of a stretch than others -- but there really are marketing lessons to be learned here. Check out alli's slick little web site; look at the language and images they use; think about the implications.

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