Sanofi-Aventis and AZ Launch YouTube Sites

Feb 18, 2009

Social media has been a buzzword in the pharmaceutical industry for the past few years (see ePharma Summit), but few companies have crossed the line into the world of social networking or conducting two-way conversations with patients online.

However, two pharma companies are now testing those waters with YouTube channels that include patient testimonials as well as information. Sanofi-Aventis and AstraZeneca both launched YouTube sites to reach patients and consumers searching for information on the popular video content sharing site. 

The Sanofi channel is part of its integrated GoInsulin campaign, an unbranded health education program designed to give people more information about diabetes and serve as a launching pad to the Sanofi homepage. It features an array of patient videos and a link to an off-site, online game that separates the myths about insulin from reality. The channel has no branded drug material, but lists the company’s name below the top banner. 

“We wanted to share patient video stories about their success in managing their diabetes by working with their physician, as well as key tactics of the GoInsulin campaign that have demonstrated the most appeal and impact to the patient,” said Lynn Crowe, senior manager, metabolism marketing, Sanofi-Aventis US. 

Sanofi’s site does not take advantage of YouTube’s comment feature, a technology that pharma has shied away from due to the potential for negative and off-label conversations. That said, the company is looking into it. “We are working to find a way to support a two-way conversation,” Crowe said. “It is definitely our goal to be able to utilize this medium to its full extent.”

Call for Stories
AstraZeneca took a different approach with its YouTube channel. Working with agencies Digitas Health and Cadient, AZ developed a branded pharma channel to market its asthma treatment Symbicort (budesonide/formoterol). For now, the YouTube channel features testimonials from older patients, as well as risk information. But what’s really interesting is the company’s call for new testimonials.

In a clear paradigm shift away from one-sided advertising, patients will get the chance to make short videos about how asthma affects them, and send the videos directly to the AZ for publication. Sure, an army of legal and regulatory people will screen the videos to weed out false or competitive information, but this is a big first step in offering some sort of comment function on a social networking site. 

“A major portion of our marketing is around putting the Symbicort message into the context of a patient story,” Cadient’s Bob Holloway said. “What is the patient’s experience with asthma and how has Symbicort played into that. When you look at the stories we have, you get a good feel for the person’s life. It’s not just a person saying Symbicort is great, but the impact asthma has had on their life.”

AZ is allowing patients to contribute their stories in an effort to take advantage of the two-way dialogue offered by YouTube. However, contributors cannot mention other treatments or any side effects in the uploaded videos. AZ went one step further by listing FDA’s adverse reaction telephone hotline in bold type.

“YouTube offers an opportunity to get those stories out, and for people to be able to tell their stories,” Holloway continued. “YouTube is about user-generated content, and providing people the ability and the wherewithal to put up their content.”

Neither of these companies are the first pharmas to take a stab at posting videos on YouTube. Johnson & Johnson has been using its site to showcase old health information video assets, and GlaxoSmithKline launched a recruiting site featuring candid videos by CEO Andrew Witty. The GSK channel is no longer available, but J&J’s site has a healthy 611 subscribers and 41,555 views (as of February 18).

“I think [AZ’s site is] the first example I’ve seen where a pharma company launches a channel specifically related to a brand [that also] requests patient stories,” Ignite Health President and social media guru Fabio Gratton posted on his blog: “They also do a good job of clearly outlining some of the rules in terms of adverse event reporting so that they don’t get in trouble.”

Submissions to AstraZeneca’s YouTube channel will begin airing after March 20.