Interactive Future: Making the Switch

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Ad spend is becoming more targeted, but is pharma putting its resources in newer channels or sticking with traditional outlets? Five key players look at what's in store for the future  

Raj Amin
CEO and co-founder, 
HealthiNation

Is this the year pharmas finally start spending online like other industries do?
Traditional media outlets have their place for many large brands but reduced budgets and more targeted patient populations means less tolerance for waste.  Internet media brings consumers that self-qualify along with highly measurable actions, and pharma seems to be investing much more this year not just in “media” but also in the right creative approaches to take advantage of these features.

When will online ad revenues begin to make up for those lost offline, and will there be any journals left?
As an online video network, we're taking advantage of the fact that consumers want more personalized experiences especially in health. What's driving this is fragmentation of media consumption, meaning “mass market” experiences in many cases give way to mass personalization and there is no going back.  Traditional media companies need to change fast with the consumer, or they won't be around to worry about it.

Are pharmas jumping into the digital marketing and social media spaces, or merely dabbling?
Some pharma brands are diving in and swimming around while others don't want to get their feet wet. A lot of brands want an innovative digital program, and the constraints placed by regulatory groups in these environments are difficult but not impossible to manage.  The key is to find environments that can be truly customized for the unique needs of pharma. And good partners who recognize tht it's sometimes a moving target.


Mark Bard
President, 
Manhattan Research

Is this the year pharmas finally start spending online like other industries do?
2009 will be a year of reckoning. Brand planning reviews are happening amidst a top-down debate about the value of DTC to the company and individual brands. As companies are forced to rethink the traditional DTC model they are increasingly open to finding a balance between digital and traditional. In the perfect world, they complement, drive and balance one another. 

When will online ad revenues begin to make up for those lost offline, and will there be any journals left?
The transition from offline journals to online is being driven by the traditional publishers to meet rapidly growing physician demand. The challenge to growth has been the debate with sponsors to determine how to price the online channel based on impressions, engagement, actions taken offline and the value of individual readers. 

Are pharmas jumping into the digital marketing and social media spaces, or merely dabbling?
Although digital is not the primary channel for most brands, there are numerous brands spending a significant amount of time thinking about how the digital channel fits into the brand plan going forward. Being truly innovative with your brand involves risk. Most brand teams still opt for safe and up with a slight tweak from last year—innovation requires stepping outside the comfort zone. 



Fard Johnmar
Founder, 
Envision Solutions

Is this the year pharmas finally start spending online like other industries do?
While pharma is still behind when it comes to online spending, a number of firms are engaged in heavy digital experimentation. In the advertising arena, we are seeing companies honing their SEO strategies and looking at the benefits of behavioral targeting and other tactics in an effort to reach consumers. Companies are also making their digital properties more interactive with an eye toward increasing patient compliance and developing deeper relationships with key stakeholders. 

When will online ad revenues begin to make up for those lost offline, and will there be any journals left?
I think that you are going to see physician educational dollars move online because that is where a lot of journals, medical societies and others are moving. Physicians across demographics are using the Internet because it is more efficient. I think that journals are here to stay, but those that successfully figure out how to monetize and leverage the Internet will thrive. As the evolution from print to digital progresses, we'll see pharmaceutical advertising dollars follow.

Are pharmas jumping into the digital marketing and social media spaces, or merely dabbling?
A number of pharmaceutical companies are using social technologies like blogs, podcasts and social networks—just in ways that are not readily apparent. They are engaging in four different strategies. One is advertising, where companies are delivering messages to people reading blogs and social networks. Drug firms are very comfortable with this strategy because it's very similar to advertising in a journal.



Laura Pfister
VP, interactive media and SEM, 
Ignite Health

Is this the year pharmas finally start spending online like other industries do?
This year we have seen pharma continuing to move away from the shotgun approach and shifting their focus toward reaching their audience in a laser-targeted manner. Accountability for marketing spend performance has drastically increased and we anticipate this to be an ongoing trend. That said, online spend offers a unique value proposition in that it possesses extensive reach, is highly targetable and allows for very detailed performance metrics to be delivered to prove success. 

When will online ad revenues begin to make up for those lost offline, and will there be any journals left?
Right now we are seeing a bit of a latency-effect with pharma making significant cuts to their journal ad placements and the redistribution to online. A great example of a successful transformation is The New England Journal of Medicine and their online property NEJM.org. The journal has been in existence for 196 years, yet has managed to develop an engaging online experience. These types of journals will be the ones that will continue to exist and thrive in the upcoming years. 

Are pharmas jumping into the digital marketing and social media spaces, or merely dabbling?
The “uncontrollable” perception of social media is what primarily continues to hold the industry back as, more often than not, social networks are viewed as black holes of adverse event and off-label reporting. However, this perception is far from the truth as the pharma companies who have successfully engaged in social media have discovered. An example of this at work can be seen in Juvenation.org, a Type 1 diabetes community created in combination by JDRF from an educational grant provided by Novo Nordisk. 


Christopher Schroeder
CEO, 
HealthCentral Network

Is this the year pharmas finally start spending online like other industries do?
Pharma is a hard industry to predict velocity and trajectory of change, but, to quote Warren Buffett, “When tides go out, we can see who's swimming naked.” Human behaviors and remarkable technologies are allowing health marketers to usefully reach audiences more cost effectively than any medium in history. If the Internet came first with all the reach and precision it offers, and TV and print came second, I doubt only 5% of ad dollars would be online. 

When will online ad revenues begin to make up for those lost offline, and will there be any journals left?
I'm not sure “making up” for lost traditional dollars is the measure of success here. I've long wondered if the efficiencies and cost savings in interactive environments portend a world where fewer aggregate marketing dollars are being spent, but with much greater reach and ROI—on interactive sites and engaging brand.com experiences. Why is that a bad thing? And for sites that really understand and serve well really specific audience needs, why isn't that a fabulous thing?

Are pharmas jumping into the digital marketing and social media spaces, or merely dabbling?
There is a conventional wisdom that advertising in social networks “doesn't work.” This is where audiences are, and new products and useful engagements on their terms will be explosive. Pharma has particular sensitivities due to regulatory concerns, but there is marketing knowledge and learning to be had by those with the thick skins to engage audiences on their terms. I don't see a big pop this year, but there is an opportunity to engage the new administration and government of the value in “entering the conversation.” 
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