Who moved the goalposts?

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Promoting prescription drugs is obviously a lot different than hawking cars, soda and sports apparel, not least because of the highly regulated environment in which pharma marketers operate. However, the cultural and behavioral evolution of human beings is far less discriminate, and in only a handful of years we have witnessed a fundamental change in the way that audiences—empowered by technology—search for information, absorb messages, experience brands and communicate with each other.

Consumers (and that includes physicians) have become conditioned to embrace and adopt new communications technologies, which is driving behavioral change at a breathtaking pace across the board—including pharma.

A good benchmark for gauging the gravity these changes outside of pharma is the recent World Cup tournament in South Africa. The tournament takes place only once every four years, which is an eternity in the world of communications technology (it is also an eternity for ardent soccer fans, I might add). Since the last World Cup, technology has added at least one, maybe two “screens” to the consumer's collection. In 2006, advertisers were no doubt served well enough by largely TV-driven sponsorships and spots.

Back to 2010. During a recent conversation with a media CEO, I failed to name a single official World Cup sponsor with any certainty. The brands in my head—Nike and Puma— were not official partners. Instead, they each had produced wonderful commercials, which I received online, watched online (maybe a hundred times) and forwarded online. I certainly hadn't clocked that Emirates was the official World Cup airline and that Hyundai was the official car.

Although I watched around 60% of the games on TV, almost all of my brand engagement took place on the web. What's more, many of my friends and colleagues—a tasty target demographic for numerous sponsors—reported they had been similarly unaware. Anecdotal maybe, but I rather suspect that there has been a monumental shift in viewing habits in the space of just one World Cup, and that one or two official sponsors might be casting an envious glance at Nike as they root around for returns on their own sizeable investments.

The point is that technology is continuing to facilitate behavioral change across all audiences and it's happening fast, and the pharma industry is not immune to it. This shift is part of a wider cultural phenomenon; it's people-driven and it's industry agnostic. I get the sense that most pharma companies are at least looking at options for extending marketing efforts beyond traditional media. We all know the issues and the risks, but it's crucial that we don't get left behind while we wait for those guidelines to appear.

Did you make the cut?
As I write this, the judging of the MM&M Awards 2010 has just reached its conclusion. More than 40 esteemed industry leaders assembled in New York for the day to review and score almost 650 entries. I'd like to thank our panel for their time and efforts, and for helping us fulfill our commitment to judge submissions fairly, independently and with authority. All the finalists are listed at mmm-online.com/awards. As always, the gold and silver winners will be revealed for the first time at the MM&M Awards dinner on October 12. And I'm excited to announce that we have moved the event to a stunning location—Cipriani 42nd Street in New York. Tickets are available online on a first-come, first-serve basis. You won't want to miss this one!
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