In the last few posts I wrote about superhero patients in the Orphan Drug space, a new group of empowered patients and their families with the ability to turn molecules into marketed drugs. These patients raise awareness, fundraise, lobby government and fill up clinical trials, feats that used to be the sole province of large pharmaceutical companies.

So clearly engaging these superstar patients requires something different from traditional patient marketing.  One possible model is Pepsi’s arrangement with a superstar of a different sort, Beyonce. She recently inked a $50 million dollar deal with Pepsi that according the New York Times article, is “a hybrid project … that will include standard advertising like commercials as well as a multimillion-dollar fund to support the singer’s chosen creative projects.”

Pepsi sees this deal as a “… a shift in the way we think about deals with artists, (moving) from a transactional deal to a mutually beneficial collaboration,” according to Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group. According to a statement from Beyoncé, the new deal “allows me to work with a lifestyle brand with no compromise and without sacrificing my creativity.”

Why the new model for Pepsi? The company says it is responding to the changing expectations of its consumer base. According to Jakeman, this shift responds to young consumers’ desire for “a much greater authenticity in marketing from the brands they love.”  The traditional approach of concert sponsorship is “‘still important, but insufficient’ to reach savvy young consumers.”

To me, the parallels between the Pepsi’s approach and orphan drug marketing are like “a brick to the forehead.” Working with the Beyonces of the bio-pharma world, the patient advocates and their organizations, engagement has to be highly collaborative, with significant “no-strings attached” elements, such as unrestricted grants and access to trial results and scientists.

In terms of an ROI, Pepsi is seeking “to enhance its reputation with consumers by acting as something of an artistic patron instead of simply paying for celebrity endorsements.” For bio-pharma, the rewards of this new “patronage” model seem even greater. Because, despite her enormous talent, Beyonce can’t actually put a can of Pepsi on the grocery store shelf. But patient advocates can help put a product on the pharmacy shelf. So in planning patient outreach and engagement, think about using Pepsi’s new patronage approach. It just might help you bring products to market faster than the traditional approach.