How did EpiPen’s Controversy Play Out?

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If you haven’t watched the news recently, you might wonder why this company’s stocks plummeted in a matter of hours. This year, Mylan, the company that produces EpiPens announced that they’ll be sold for $600 – a 400% increase in less than a decade. EpiPens are self-injecting devices for people who have severe, life-threatening allergies, and they release epinephrine to quickly treat the severe symptoms of allergies. So… why is that significant?
The context: one of the world’s largest provider of life-saving allergy devices just jacked the price up through the roof, and made no apologies about it.
After hearing the news, people were outraged and needed to express their thoughts on the healthcare crisis over social media. Predictably, Mylan’s stocks decreased dramatically as their brand dove straight into a global media crisis. Using Crimson Hexagon’s listening platform, we analyzed the social conversation around EpiPen in the last 2 weeks.

Timeline of the conversation: EpiPen

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Looking at the social response, we can see that mentions rose on August 18th, but the general conversation around EpiPen increased drastically from August 21st until August 25th, peaking on the 25th. During this time, various news outlets, political figures, and affected families themselves expressed their concern over EpiPen’s controversial soaring costs.
These social posts ignited the conversation and triggered a global response:

  • August 18th, 2016: Senator Bernie Sanders reacted to the EpiPen’s price increase on Twitter

  • August 23rd, 2016: Ex-pharma CEO Martin Shkreli, also accused of raising the price of Daraprim by 5,000%, from $13.50 to $700, defended EpiPen’s higher price in a CBS interview.
  • August 25th, 2016: Mylan’s CEO Heather Bresch tried to justify the EpiPen’s drastic price increase in an interview with CNBC.
  • August 25th, 2016: Mylan’s CEO announces it will provide instant savings cards worth $300 for select patients without insurance or with high-deductible plans.

However, almost half of the conversation about EpiPen is still about ‘price’ and ‘cost’. Several hashtags, such as #petition2congress, #Greed and #shameonyou reflect the audience’s discontent with the current situation and the overall negative sentiment towards the company.
words (1)
hashtags (1)
By looking at the top recurring words and hashtags, we can understand why this narrative about EpiPen was so damaging to Mylan’s reputation, which led to a massive decline in their stock valuation.
Tweets related to EpiPen went from 2k to 90k in a matter of days. What’s clear is that Martin Shkreli’s involvement in this issue was a fundamental factor for the rising volume of Tweets since August 23rd. Subsequently, Mylan’s CEO’s interview with CNBC on August 25th led to the highest volume of Tweets. With the (socially promoted) approval from arguably the most hated high executive in pharmaceutical history, it stands to reason that the current Mylan CEO won’t keep her job for long.
Unsurprisingly, the overall sentiment was negative, reaching its lowest point in August 21st, when the EpiPen’s new price was introduced to social media.

Understanding the Audience

The skyrocketing price of this medical device affected both allergy sufferers themselves, many of whom are children, as well as the parents of those kids who have severe allergies.volume (4)
demographics (3)The demographics show that most of the people who voiced their concerns are older than 34, and located in the United States; this represents a large number of parents, activists, and popular figures, such as Bernie Sanders. As the EpiPen’s news highlighted the healthcare crisis, it is expected that this audience is interested in
related topics, such as the 
Affordable Care Act, as well as Science and Technology.interests (1)

So what can we take away from this healthcare crisis?

Social can help shed light on why a crisis occurs, and to understand where and when the PR strategy failed for general audiences, as well as who is perpetuating the conversation. Some key ways Mylan could have called on social data for help here to:

  • Identify the main topics of conversations around EpiPen to know how to approach them; if Mylan learns what the audience’s inquiries are, it can provide more effective solutions.
  • Understand events in real-time – such as Tweets or news publications – to monitor and measure how each case affected the brand’s overall reputation
  • Gain extensive knowledge of Mylan’s audiences and influencers, so Mylan knows who to specifically address the issue to. If it wants to respond to this situation, it will have to do so to its core audience; condemning the ‘broken’ healthcare system isn’t enough to appease the social outrage, and could actually become more detrimental for the brand.

With all this data, we can foresee that negative conversation around EpiPen’s price gouging will continue until a measurable solution is provided by Mylan.

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