The marketing problem of life extension technologies

If “Science has a really serious marketing problem” as Larry Page observed, then life extension technologies face even bigger marketing problems. I am definitely not a marketing expert but realized the problem early on when thinking about the lag-phase period of a robust life extension technology.  So I made a short email interview with Dave Gobel, the marketing and business mind/strategist behind the Methuselah Foundation (official title: Chief Executive Officer) following our meeting and chat at the SENS3 conference in Cambridge, UK, 2007.

1. What is the biggest marketing problem of any future (or present) healthy life extension technology?

The biggest marketing problem today is the time it takes for a beneficial effect to present itself. For instance, a product such as resveratrol may take months to present beneficial results, or it may never show up clinically. People who are scientifically sophisticated can appreciate the value of reduced circulating fats or glucose, but to the typical individual, there are much sexier things to spend money on that give immediate gratification and clear utility. The proof of this is illustrated by a counter example – how ridiculously easy it would be to sell a product that biologically reversed grey hair. The effect might be seen gradually but incontrovertably by all and in the mirror directly.

It seems to me that the best way to proceed from a business standpoint therefore is from the outside in. Create legitimate products that improve a person’s visual image and therefore social standing and they will flock for the result. Try to engineer those products to have globally beneficial effects, and marketing becomes easy.

So, for the present, the problem is delayed, and difficult to pinpoint results in exchange for expensive pills/treatments and never ending taking of pills. What about the future? The problem of marketing will evaporate as tissue engineering provides an immediate benefit by eliminating hip, knee and similar pains while restoring or even improving base functionality. When biologically matched teeth can be implanted and grown anew in gums, marketing will be easy.

2. How to market life extension for different generations (teenagers, college students, young adults, mature adults, grandpas and grandmas) and what are the main differences here?

Probably the most efficient way to market would be to go to the Internet savvy first since accessing this group is least expensive and most targeted. Further, they have the education and flexible social mindset such that the longevity meme can have a chance to germinate. In fact, this is the Methuselah Foundation’s current strategy. The next segment would be perhaps the grandmas and grandpas. These can be approached inexpensively now via late night cable TV in target demos/geographics. The message here is “support LE for your grandchildren – give them the gift of robust life without limit”. I think this will resonate because promoting the welfare of one’s grandchildren has powerful biological underpinnings. By allying with children/teenagers and grandparents, then you could gradually work towards the middle in a “marketing flanking maneuver”

3. What is the story of your life extension commitment?

My commitment is about prevention and curing of diseases and reversing the internal physiological conditions that allow diseases to arise in the first place. If you examine the track history of cures since the civil war in the US, you’ll find that the greatest number of true cures have come from military research. I’m not speaking of treatments or therapies – I’m speaking of cures. The reason for this in my opinion is that the resources of the military are quite large, and the mission of the military (winning and keeping veteran care costs as low as possible) is quite different from commercial concerns whose key concern is to have a product requiring chronic dosing that creates trackable earnings for wall st and their investors. So, in short, the incentives currently in the system do not produce cures. It’s literally too expensive for a company to cure anything. The pill to cover the cost of research, development and marketing would have to cost 6 figures each if you only needed to take one – ever.

So, that’s why I love the prize model. You put up the money and tell competitors what they need to do. The larger the prize, the more competitors. It’s like an inexpensive way of being able to put chips on every single spot on a roulette table. The best way to find a solution to unknown problems is to generate high motivation among the greatest number of thinkers/actors without too much regard to reputation of the competitors – let the best outcome win – I don’t care how they dress :-)

In addition to the Mprize, I also very much like the SENS approach since it by definition, is an engineering approach to repair/reverse the damage of aging at the molecular level. I very much feel that surgery is another great success story in medicine, and I think of SENS as enzymatic or molecular surgery…or more colloquially “cutting the crap out” :-)

6 thoughts on “The marketing problem of life extension technologies

  1. The Military angle (despite the current media hysteria regarding the Anthrax story) is really centered here in Frederick. The Army announced the creation of a major Regenerative Medicine facility at Ft Detrick a few months ago. I have known several people working on wound healing and reattachment of amputated limbs, artificial blood and other common battlefield maladies which have historically been funded through DARPA. Most of this work was conducted in Bethesda at Walter Reid and the Naval Hospital. Recent bad publicity surrounding Walter Reid and the simple fact that Bethesda is expensive and almost out of room for expansion means moving up to Frederick was a good idea.

    So I think that making a soldier that can stay active into their 40’s or 50’s is a real motivational factor for the military that may be the driving force behind a lot of SENS research.

  2. The problem here, as with so many other high-tech and start-up businesses, is not HOW to market, but WHAT to market. Since SENS currently doesn’t have any products to sell, the focus should be on product development. Thinking about how to sell is all very good if you actually have something to sell in the first place. Too many start-ups have failed because they have great marketing, but no substance. The ones who survive more than a couple of years after burning through their VC funds usually have a tangible product.

    Even if SENS does develop a product (say a pill), it is likely the intellectual property associated with that product will already be locked up by the inventors (probably university based), will be bought by the pharmaceutical industry, or the formulation will consist of non-patentable entities (such as caloric restriction, resveratrol etc.) While SENS might be very good at investing and driving research on aging, they are unlikely to get a good return on their investment, because the solution will be very complex, and they can’t possibly hope to own all the IP. Anyone investing in business long term will look at the IP first – all else follows from that, including marketing. Without IP, there’s nothing to market.

  3. This work is being funded by a group of companies, iXsystems, Yahoo!, and Juniper networks. I’m interested to see if this kind of project if feasible in the future where companies can share development costs for specific opensource projects.

Comments are closed.