Diabetics share mixed reactions to Dexcom’s $5.5 million Super Bowl commercial

Ah, the Super Bowl. Some watch it for the football, some watch it for the camaraderie and for some, the commercials. Among the typical ads for beer and snacks this year, appeared an unexpected 30-second spot for Dexcom, a company that produces continuous glucose monitoring systems for diabetics. A type 1 diabetic myself, I was shocked and excited to see the device I wear advertised during such a big event, and I immediately shared the YouTube video to a Facebook group for fellow Dexcom users. However, not every diabetic is quite as enthused—and for good reason.

Before I go into diabetes and CGM terminology, here’s the commercial:

The commercial took off quickly, getting straight to the point. When technology has us going to Mars and robots vacuuming for us, why is it diabetics still need to prick their fingers to know their blood sugar levels? How archaic!

I can go into a lot of detail behind the mechanics of type 1 and 2 diabetes and the importance of people with these conditions knowing their blood sugars, but for purposes of discussing the controversial commercial, Mayo Clinic sums it up best. According to their article, “Blood sugar testing: Why, when and how” testing can help:

  • Monitor the effect of diabetes medications on blood sugar levels
  • Identify blood sugar levels that are high or low
  • Track your progress in reaching your overall treatment goals
  • Learn how diet and exercise affect blood sugar levels
  • Understand how other factors, such as illness or stress, affect blood sugar levels

Blood sugar levels can change rapidly, and nearly anything you can think of is capable of affecting them (seriously, even sunburn and showers can wreak havoc). Knowledge of one’s blood sugar levels is the first step to making treatment decisions. As such, testing regularly and often is crucial to diabetes management. This is especially true for type 1 diabetics because insulin therapy can be cause for more dramatic swings.

In the past, diabetics had to prick their fingers and test the resulting blood with a blood sugar monitor. My calloused fingers of yesteryear can attest this meant I sometimes skipped a check, which is never ideal.

Enter Dexcom. Everything changes—now I can glance at my phone and know exactly what my levels are. I don’t need to carry around a bulky testing kit, I don’t have to slow down my life to test and I don’t have to get “those looks” from bystanders. All I do is insert a sensor to my skin, attach a transmitter and I’m good for the next 10 days with just that device and my smartphone. The sensor uses interstitial fluid to test glucose levels every five minutes and the transmitter communicates to the Dexcom app via Bluetooth.

According to their site, a Dexcom CGM system gives its users “a clear picture of your glucose highs and lows, along with where your numbers are headed. This means you’ll be able to see trends and gain insight into the impact that meals, exercise and illness can have on your glucose levels. In other words, Dexcom G6 helps to reduce the guesswork that comes with making diabetes treatment decisions.”

Wilford Brimley probably never saw that coming!

So, back to the commercial.

Like me, some diabetics liked the visibility and awareness it brought into view when Dexcom joined the Super Bowl ranks. Mike A. Millard wrote, “I’m glad Nick [Jonas] is providing greater exposure for those of us living with T1. Dexcom does make things easier, as does the Freestyle Libre, and the EverSense (I think that’s the name of the implantable one). By providing exposure, more understand the difficulties we experience on a daily basis- financial, physical, and mental, brought on by diabetes.”

Jayne Giwojna Mooney thought it was a “great commercial” and liked that it featured someone with type 1 diabetes in real life. She commented it “helps sensitize the world that there is equipment out there to help diabetics. Lots of people know of someone who is diabetic who has lost a limb or died and expect the same end result for every diabetic.”

Mooney brings good points. It wasn’t long after I was diagnosed at 13 that everyone and their brother started telling me horror stories of diabetics losing their legs, and worse. Also, when I wear my Dexcom in an exposed spot, a lot of people don’t know what it is. Once, someone mistook it for a bandage. I even saw a nurse practitioner at one point who thought it was my insulin pump. At least she was on the right track!

Along those same lines, Renee-Caryn White felt the commercial was “positive” for the community. “Now the public may recognize it on my arm and not stare,” said White.

The commercial rubbed others the wrong way, largely due to the inaccessibility of Dexcom CGMs.

Ashley MacLeod was not a fan. Dexcom shelled out millions to advertise a product most of its demographic cannot afford.

Depending on one’s insurance, Dexcom can be exorbitantly costly. Therefore, the primary reason more diabetics don’t use Dexcom is because they can’t afford to.

KM Alexander called it “silly that Dexcom would have a commercial because what type one doesn’t know about Dexcom.”

She continued, “Knowing about the brand isn’t what keeps us from using it, it’s the finances. Maybe if they didn’t have to pay for a Super Bowl commercial we wouldn’t have to pay so much.”

Commercials during the 2021 Super Bowl are going for around $5.5 million per 30-second spot, according to Fast Company. It’s important to note the $5.5 million figure does not include other costs of production, only the time, so the real cost of Dexcom’s commercial could be much higher.

For reference, the American Diabetes Association estimated the total costs of diagnosed diabetes in 2017 to be $327 billion.

The Dexcom G6 averages a retail price of $423.98 for a month’s supply, according to GoodRx. Diabetics are left wondering how Dexcom can spend so much money on one night of advertising while millions of them still can’t afford the potentially life-saving product.

Amy Payne viewed the ad and felt “proud but also sad imagining those who can’t afford the technology.”

Pat Hahn thought any publicity is good, but ultimately wasn’t impressed at the commercial’s execution.

“I think the commercial was luke warm. If you’re going to spend millions on a Super Bowl ad make it memorable,” remarked Hahn.

Kaitlin Latham shared it was “hard to enjoy this while I have a $1000+ bill for my Dexcom sitting on my counter.”

Dexcom was not the only source of controversy. Nick Jonas’ appearance brought mixed feelings, too. A type 1 diabetic and one-third of the Jonas Brothers, he has many fans in the community, and apparently also foes.

Nick Jonas is an advocate for type 1 diabetes, but some diabetics call him out for only speaking about it when he gets a profit.

Brent Geissler thought it was “nice” to see “Nick Jonas using his fame and platform to spread information about this great technology.” He would have preferred, though, that Dexcom use the money to increase accessibility of CGMs to those who can’t afford their product.

“I just wish Nick Jonas would say anything about the insulin affordability crisis. He is pretty much silent about diabetes unless he stands to make a profit from it and the org he co-founded, Beyond Type 1, accepts money from big pharma,” shared Tim Mack.

Beyond Type 1, a diabetes nonprofit, released their own statement on Facebook:

Others couldn’t understand why Dexcom presented the CGM as something new. The first device for reading blood glucose levels continuously was a professional CGM produced by Medtronic that was approved by the FDA in June 1999.

Some have theorized Dexcom is trying to appeal to the type 2 diabetes market with their recent TV campaigns, since their main customers are those with type 1 diabetes.

But for those removed from the diabetes community, CGMs are something new. And that’s what makes the Super Bowl commercial so groundbreaking—it brings our technology to the public eye in one of the most-watched events of the year.

Maybe, just maybe, more visibility will lead to more innovation and a lower cost of living with diabetes.