Getting with the Program

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Five years ago pharmaceutical e-marketing was a new toy to be played with. Marketers in the pharma industry were literally experimenting with it and CEOs were carving out innovation budgets that were merely extraneous to the real core of the brand.

Fast forward to now. The question is no longer, “Do we do e-marketing or not?” It's, “How do we do it?” 

With an estimated 160 million consumers using the Internet to seek health information, pharma marketers are often no longer targeting patient niches. 

Large-scale players and networks of websites are now able to follow online users from a health research moment across a site—such as Yahoo! or Google—and continue to target them. 

Through behavioral targeting, pharmaceutical marketers can find large numbers by following people for a week, a day, or a month, based on their behavior, explains Jack Barrette, CEO of WEGO Health.  
“The way that boils down now is that it is thoroughly possible to spend $10 million to $20 million at a Yahoo! or AOL Body or MSN, and spend it wisely, against a targeted audience and reach the right people,” he says.

More spending, greater trust
In 2007, greater numbers of pharmaceutical marketers recognized the potential of the Web and have come to increasingly rely on the Internet and alternative media to promote their products.
According to the results of Cegedim Dendrite's annual DTC Industry Check Up survey—a poll of 134 pharmaceutical companies, ad agencies, consulting firms and vendors—2007 was a milestone year in which pharma marketers would generate promotional spending increases in areas such as websites, search engine marketing and e-mail, while decreasing investments in traditional advertising areas such as national TV advertising, spot TV, radio and direct mail.

“We are becoming more sophisticated as an industry and our understanding and use of marketing is becoming more sophisticated,” Cegedim Dendrite VP and GM of relationship marketing operations, Dominque Hurley, told MM&M following the release of the survey. “As a result, where the industry would have once traditionally used sales force, with some collateral support in the detail bag to reach the doctor and national and broadcast and print to reach the consumer, the availability of online tactics has broadly expanded marketing.”

2007 also saw consumer Internet giants Microsoft, Yahoo! and WebMD expand their health offerings to consumers as the group's trust in Internet health info reached a high. Seventy-five percent of consumers considered the Internet their most trusted source for researching drug information, according to an analysis conducted by acquisitions solutions firm Prospectiv. Only 15% of consumers chose broadcast media as their most trusted and reliable source of ailment and drug information and just 10% of those polled said magazines were their preferred source of drug info. 

The survey of 800 US consumers, conducted in June, also found that online consumers favor general health websites over pharmaceutical company sites. 

Of consumers searching the Web for health info, women are more likely than men to be doing it. Women are much more proactive in terms of their healthcare and are also more likely to be caretakers to children, husbands and parents, says Dr. Janet Morahan-Martin, a researcher from Smithfield, RI's Bryant University.

For her research, Morahan-Martin, a professor of psychology and chair of the department of applied psychology, and Phyllis Schumacher, a mathematician, analyzed the results of four surveys conducted between 2000 and 2004. A total of 1,461 women and 1,317 men who had ever accessed online health info were surveyed over the four years. In all four years, women were more likely than men to be online health seekers, although the difference lessened over time. The findings were first presented at the American Psychological Association's 115th annual meeting in San Francisco held in August.

Social media 
Online social media marketing is perhaps the one of the largest opportunities that pharma marketers are trying to figure out how to engage in.

“The good news is that there are companies like GlaxoSmithKline with its Alli communities moderating its own chat rooms,” says WEGO Health's Barrette. “Yes it's an OTC drug but they have really gone out with this drug and its side effects.” 

AstraZeneca and Novartis are also showing other marketers that user-generated content can be successfully executed within the pharma space. In October, AstraZeneca launched with the help of the agency Digitas Health. The end result was a first-of-its-kind use of social media allowing users to become part of the marketing experience. 

“The website is groundbreaking in that you are letting users generate some content,” says Marion Chaplick, SVP, management supervisor, Digitas Health. allows breast cancer survivors, their friends and family members to create paper doll caricatures of fellow survivors featuring physical attributes and characteristics. The dolls then perform actions in a series of animations. The animations can then be sent to recipients via e-mail. The company donated $1 to a breast cancer charity for each paper doll created.

Scott Reese, SVP, group creative director, Digitas Health adds, “We saw this as being a big opportunity to support the patient in a way that is unexpected from a pharmaceutical company.”
Marketers from Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics jumped into the user-generated content arena in late 2007 with a contest that invited Web-savvy filmmakers to submit their work and compete for a cash prize. With its “FluFlix Video Contest,” posted on YouTube during the months of September and October, Novartis asked consumers to create their own two-minute videos showing how they “feel about influenza…and how it can affect your everyday life.” 

Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics was slated to ship more than 60 million doses of its flu vaccine Fluvirin to the US for the 2007-2008 cold and flu season.

Many e-marketers believe it is only a matter of time before pharma e-marketers really begin to seize the potential the medium has to offer. WEGO Health's Barrette predicts that in a year or two, the gloves will be off and advertisers will have understood the regulatory issues or lack thereof and be moving into working more directly in the online space.

“We can make topline changes. This is a medium that has to be considered alongside every other medium,” Barrette adds.

A bright future ahead?
“The last three years, there has been a convergence of forces, says Digitas Health's SVP, Business Strategy Bruce Grant. “I don't have to tell you the industry is under pressure, with their pipeline not delivering the way it has in past years. The ability of their sales force to access physicians has declined precipitously. The industry needs a new model. There are people in pharma who have been saying, ‘put me in, coach,' and agencies that have been slowly building the capability. This is our moment in the sun.” 
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