CoolSculpting is taking its non-invasive fat-reduction messaging to the masses.
Since the beginning of the year, CoolSculpting has initiated two notable direct-to-consumer campaigns to provide prospective CoolSculpting patients with real patient testimonials and answer questions about the treatment. The first, in March, involved CoolSculpting wading into Reddit via an Ask Me Anything forum. Ask Me Anything, also called AMA, allows Reddit users to ask questions that a specific individual can answer. Dr. Suzanne Kilmer, a board-certified dermatologist who partnered with CoolSculpting, responded to people’s questions. CoolSculpting then launched a May-July campaign called “CoolSculpting Takes You Further,” which featured actual patients telling their stories of using CoolSculpting. The collection of five TV ads showed people horseback riding, dancing, jogging and doing other physical activities, while a patient in the ad talks about the stubborn fat they had before using CoolSculpting and the way they feel now.
“The spirit of all our marketing has increasingly been about telling an authentic story that features real patients,” said Jasson Gilmore, co-founder of Allergan Data Labs and svp of global consumer and digital marketing at Allergan. In 2017, Allergan purchased Zeltiq, the creator of CoolSculpting, for $2.4 billion in cash. “The marketing that resonates most is the marketing that feels authentic to a person’s needs. It isn’t just about the functional benefits that the particular product or service offers, but also the social and emotional benefits that the product or service can bring to the person.”
CoolSculpting’s marketing efforts have taken off while a high-profile $50 million lawsuit from model Linda Evangelista against Zeltiq Aesthetics has played out in the background. Zeltiq created, manufactured, distributed and marketed its CoolSculpting device in 2016 when Evangelista received treatments. Allergan and CoolSculpting declined to comment on the lawsuit for this story. Evangelista and her lawyers argue in the complaint filed with the Southern District of New York that Zeltiq “failed to adequately warn and/or intentionally concealed the incidence and occurrence of known serious adverse effects, including, but not limited to, paradoxical adipose hyperplasia,” which Evangelista experienced as an adverse reaction to CoolSculpting.
In a Sept. 2021 Instagram post announcing the lawsuit against Zeltiq, Evangelista wrote, in part, “[CoolSculpting] increased, not decreased, my fat cells and left me permanently deformed even after undergoing two painful, unsuccessful, corrective surgeries.… I have developed Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia or PAH, a risk of which I was not made aware before I had the procedures.”
“Direct-to-consumer marketing is very wise, in terms of educating the patient directly,” said Vanessa Coppola, founder and nurse practitioner of Bare Aesthetic medspa. “Educating the patient and empowering them directly to take ownership of their self-care journey and arm them with all the potential possibilities provides the pathway to truly informed consent, which is a pivotal piece in aesthetic treatments and one that’s overlooked.”
Coppola is familiar with CoolSculpting but does not currently use it in her practice — she may add it as a service in the second half of 2022, she said. She added that the responsibility of proper patient education around a treatment’s benefits and risks is equal between CoolSculpting and providers, in that CoolSculpting bears as much responsibility in educating providers as providers do in educating patients.
“Devices are not magic. They can do wonderful things, but as providers, we need to be very discriminating in our [procedure] approach and very selective in our patient populations [by assessing if they are appropriate candidates] to try to set the stage for the best possible outcome,” said Coppola. “We also cannot be afraid to discuss potential adverse reactions and educate the patient on them and show them pictures.”
CoolSculpting works via cryolipolysis, — essentially, fat freezing — to eliminate fat cells through a non-invasive procedure. During the treatment, clients recline while a clinician affixes a plastic suction cup device to the targeted area. The cup is attached by a hose to a machine that sucks the tissue into the cup and cools it. Treatment lasts 35-minutes to an hour, depending on the targeted area. Results can take weeks after treatment as the body eliminates the dead fat cells. It can take 2-4 months to see full results, and patients may need up to eight sessions.
According to an interview in February with People magazine, Evangelista noticed bulges at her chin, thighs and bra area approximately three months after undergoing seven treatments. The same areas she’d wanted to shrink suddenly grew, hardened and turned numb. Extensive invasive liposuction did not provide relief as the PAH returned and further left Evangelista with keloid scarring, according to her lawsuit complaint.
“It’s tough for a company. On the one side, their hands are tied because of the lawsuit [and cannot comment]. On the other though, they have to take it upon themselves to get their side of the story out there and to correct misinformation,” said Evan Nierman, founder and CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan. Red Banyan has worked with numerous clients, including health-care and medical centers. “If you leave misinformation unchallenged, it can take hold in the general public and is not an accurate view.”
One way to battle misinformation or misconceptions is to answer people’s questions directly, which led CoolSculpting to work with Reddit’s Ask Me Anything forum. It was the first time an Allergan aesthetic brand appeared on Reddit’s AMA forum. According to Reddit, CoolSculpting used Reddit’s Promoted Post feature before, during and after the AMA to announce the event. It targeted Reddit communities including r/30plusskincare, r/xxketo, r/askdocs, r/askparents and r/parentsofmultiples, as well as interest groups focused on weddings, women’s fashion, beauty and wellness.
The CoolSculpting team was interested in starting a dialogue, seeing what kinds of questions people have, and answering or addressing any misconceptions people have, said Mary Ann Belliveau, head of large customer sales at Reddit. Some of the most upvoted questions during the AMA were, “Where does the fat go?” “Why do you say it’s not for weight loss?” and “What is the average cost of a single treatment?”
The AMA received a total of 37 million impressions and 483,000 total engagements. Furthermore, the engagement rate was 1.9%, exceeding Reddit’s benchmark of 1%. Positive sentiment about the treatment improved by 55% post-AMA, compared to one month before the AMA, according to Reddit. Nieman said, “Anytime a company is willing to put itself out there and field questions, especially in the context of Ask Me Anything, the impression is that you have nothing to hide, that you’re very open and transparent, and that you’re proud to talk about your product or your service.”
CoolSculpting is not the only Allergan aesthetic brand to take this DTC advertising approach. Allergan-owned Botox threw out its traditional advertising playbook of using models and celebrities back in 2021, in favor of highlighting real customers and their stories. Botox began moving to this more authentic approach in October 2020, when Allergan Aesthetics updated its branding from being more clinical to emphasizing “confidence,” according to previous Glossy reporting. That included showing real people of various ethnicities, genders and skin tones across its platforms.
Though Gilmore declined to share specific plans or details about other CoolSculpting DTC campaigns and strategies moving forward, he said that the company will be moving toward an always-on marketing approach that includes actual patients telling their stories.
“We want to communicate our high degree of scientific rigor and the more than a decade of science and development and experience with the product,” said Gilmore. “We’ll keep iterating on these types of [real patient] campaigns — not just for CoolSculpting, but for all of our products. We’re thinking less about episodic campaign development and more about ongoing content development that gives our patients a voice and platform.”