Targeted marketing isn't 'unfair and deceptive'

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In a recent move a consortium of organizations—the Public Interest Research Group, Center for Digital Democracy, World Privacy Forum, and Consumer Watchdog—filed a complaint with the FTC alleging that, “Health marketers are using digital data on consumers to promote medical products and services” and trying to “influence consumer behavior in some of the most personal and profound decisions they will ever have to make…”
The 144-page filing is a weighty tome, stuffed to the gills with examples and coched in pointed language, accusing websites like Quality Health or WebMD and pharma companies of deceiving consumers by offering health information as the bait to attract unsuspecting consumers whose information is then mined for highly targeted marketing. The consortium admonishes the health industry for abrogating the right to privacy, exploiting personal medical information and delivering marketing messages geared to consumers' specific medical needs.
Perhaps most worrisome within the complaint is not the alleged “unfair and deceptive marketing practices.” It's that the complaint does not contain any sense of balanced argument. Not one single paragraph sets out the many benefits customers can reap from targeted marketing. Without help, how does each health seeker find exactly the right information in the vast, digital universe? Google “asthma awareness” and 13,000,000 results pop up in (approximately) 0.09 seconds.
Targeted marketing, on the other hand, can put the right information into the right consumers' hands quickly and efficiently. And, sometimes it will be information that might save a life.
In a nation of people notoriously lax about taking care of themselves, targeted marketing offers a unique opportunity to:
  • Educate and motivate consumers to take better care of themselves;
  • Improve patient health outcomes and reduce the burden of chronic diseases;
  • Encourage preventive medicine;
  • Enhance the quality of patient/physician dialogue;
  • Improve medication adherence/persistency rates; and
  • Actually decrease the incidence of off-label use.
Without access to consumer data, healthcare marketers can do no more than post information on the web and hope that the right consumers find it. Consumers are left to navigate unaided unless healthcare marketers have access to their data.

Jay Bolling is president & CEO, Roska Healthcare Advertising
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