Pharma-Targeted Brandjacking on the Rise

Sep 29, 2009

Last year, consumers spent $10.7 billion on pharmaceuticals bought through illegal pharmacies, down $1.3 billion from 2008, but still high compared with the $4 billion purchased in 2007. A new Brandjacking report by Mark Monitor documents how six major pharmaceutical brands are being advertised and sold on the Internet. Not surprisingly, more consumers are taking to the Web in search of more affordable vendors of prescription drugs—most of them fraudulent and illegal.

Of the 2,930 online pharmacies found by Mark Monitor, only four are certified by the United States to sell prescription drugs. The most popular drugs sold on the sites are lifestyle medicines, with 75 percent of market. Branded sleep aids (7 percent), anti-anxiety (7 percent), anti-cholesterol (4 percent), digestive aids (3 percent), and anti-flu drugs (4 percent) were also examined for brandjacking.

“Largely, [people are buying drugs from these sites] because of the economy and the fact that healthcare is more expensive or that some people don’t have insurance at all,” said Fred Felman, chief marketing officer at Mark Monitor. “Not surprising, the salacious nature of lifestyle drugs receives much of the attention, but the thing that is most damning is in business-to-business exchanges done over the Internet.”

One area that saw a spike was the number of B2B exchange sites on the Web—from 530 in 2008 to 652 now. Of those sites, 92 offer bulk sales of active ingredients in pill and powder form.

“With respect to search engine advertising, out of the 186 advertisements we found for the six brands, 167 of those advertisers were not pointing to sites that were VIPPS certified nor to the actual pharma companies,” Felman said. “There weren’t a lot of legitimate search engine advertising ads for these drugs.”

It’s still up for debate whether or not FDA made matters worse by enforcing its rule that an ad cannot mention the disease state it treats and the brand name without fair balance information.

“If you restrict companies from buying specific keywords and making ads, then the price will go down and there will be [more] illegitimate ads,” Felman said.

Mark Monitor wouldn’t disclose the top drug targeted by brandjackers, but did say that it was lifestyle drugs—particularly a certain little blue pill.

“I think change is going to require much more government intervention because pharma companies are waiting for the government to step in. So this doesn’t seem to be getting better,” Felman said.