If 2008 was the Year of the Great Recession, and 2009 the Year of the Very Slight Recovery, then, at least as far as advertisers are concerned, 2010 looks to be the Year of the Return to Normalcy. At first glance, it may not seem that way; 2009 saw a decrease of 2.2 percent in total global media spend. But that number is weighed down by a 10.8 percent drop in spend on professional marketing—DTC spend increased 0.5 percent, and e-marketing jumped 8.2 percent. The reasons for this increase, though, reflect more than just a natural bounce back. They're indicators of the way pharma will navigate a post-advertising world.
The ad landscape has been shifting for years. So it's not surprising that pharma media spend has been moving—albeit with the speed of molasses in winter—to online. After finally increasing online spend in 2007 by a monster 35 percent, life sciences agency Razorfish Health saw its clients hit the brakes, and hard. In 2008, online spending dipped an average of 13 percent before recovering last year to an average increase of 4 percent. Digital spend accounted for roughly 21 percent of a company's US marketing budget in 2009, according to a survey from consulting firm TGaS. But don't let that relatively low number fool you: Online ads are generally less expensive than their TV or even print counterparts. For example, a full-page color ad in a single issue of Women's Health costs $161,090, and a 30-second spot during ABC's demo-grabbing drama Grey's Anatomy weighed in this season at $240,462, according to Ad Age. Meanshile, Razorfish reports that the rate for an ad on a major search engine or portal ranges from $0.56 to $0.88 per click. The takeaway: Online, the same presence can be achieved with far less cost.
Make 'Em LaughOther industries have been a little quicker than pharma on the online uptake. They host online video contests; present youth-driven content (a la Burger King's sponsorship of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Comedy online series), and give potential customers the ability to view products from every possible angle before committing to a purchase.
Razorfish sister agency Digitas hosted its third annual digital "newfront" (playing off the traditional network TV "upfront" annual presentations to advertisers) in June. The focus was mainly on non-pharma online consumer advertising, but CEO Laura Lang stressed the philosophy pharma needs to adopt. "Make them laugh, make them think, remind them that they are unique, help them through their day. When you do that, your brand becomes part of that alchemy where brand objectives and creative insight and the cultural zeitgeist all come together," says Lang.
Razorfish Health General Manager Katy Thorbahn also believes pharma can learn a great deal from one successful non-pharma online campaign. Kraft recently ran a video recipe contest for its Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand, enlisting the help of Food Network host Paula Deen to get consumers to submit their cream cheese–based recipes in video form to a special site designed just for the contest. The contest began on March 29, and ended May 23; Kraft received more than 5,000 submissions.
Though some of the more niche disease states seem like better targets it is possible for drugs with mass appeal to break in via a similar sort of unbranded marketing, such as public health initiatives and third party sponsorships, says Donna Wray, executive director and management advisor at TGaS.
"The Kraft example is a really interesting case study around how to engage people around a beloved food product," Thorbahn says. "They created this entire ecosystem of experience."
From a pharma perspective, it's a matter of figuring out the audience's relationship with the brand. Thorbahn notes that Kraft understood that it had the potential for an engaging and authentic experience coming from its brand, without beating the consumer over the head with promotion. Though the contest has been over for more than a month, people still actively participate in the community, exchanging recipes and stories.
The notion of community isn't new in pharma; online patient groups have been around since the dawn of the Internet age. But, like walking the traditional DTC tightrope, finding the right balance between heavy-handed overpromotion and non-purchase–inducing subliminal messaging is a question keeping many marketers up at night.
EMD Serono took a step in the right direction with its "Increase Your Chances" fertility ads. The company took a sensitive issue—infertility—and wrapped it in a sweetly humorous, webisode-based package on a snazzy site, http://www.increaseyourchances.com/. The webisodes follow an ordinary bird-and-bee couple (actors dressed in a bird and bee costume, respectively) in their quest to get pregnant. The minimal self-promotion and deft handling of the subject matter garnered praise from press and patients alike.