23andMe and Gru: Can Minions Market Medical Devices?




Henkel, Sarah Elizabeth

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All around the world, amateur genealogists are turning to a new source for tracking ancestry: their own DNA. Technological advances have brought the price of genetic testing down remarkably, and many companies offer direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic profiling services. 23andMe is one such firm, selling tests on family history, observational features like ear size, and more advanced tests on health. 23andMe has unique FDA approval to include information on disease susceptibility and is considered a medical device. This thesis evaluates how 23andMe markets their genetic testing service in light of new FDA approvals, with specific emphasis on a 2017 promotional partnership with the animated film Despicable Me 3. Although the advertisement focuses on the product’s genealogy features, 23andMe’s genetic tests still present health information to customers. Rarely do film sponsorships promote medical products, so it is important to understand the precedents and potential impact of this campaign. This thesis investigates the campaign through content analysis, looking especially at promoting the genetic test’s ancestry results versus health results. One-on-one interviews with the creators of the campaign provide additional insight on the commercial’s key messaging. Identifying and evaluating ethical issues with the campaign will inform other advertisers about the viability of such a film partnership.


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