Integrated ad campaigns usually lead consumers to either the Web or a phone number, but a growing (albeit slowly) trend in pharma marketing involves motivating consumers to send a text message to a company for health information.
According to a report released last week by new-media research group ePharm5, the pharmaceutical industry is making headway into the mobile-marketing space. In the past year, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer have launched unbranded campaigns using consumers' cellular phones as the medium of choice.
Merck, in particular, received a lot of recognition for its use of the technology in its "Tell Someone" campaign for HPV. Ads encouraged patients to send a short text message to opt into an educational service about HPV and cervical cancer.
Another campaign by GSK asked travelers to text their location to a phone number in exchange for malaria risk information in that vicinity.
So if it worked for Merck and GSK, why aren't all pharma companies pushing for text? According to Alexandra Wilson, managing editor of ePharm5, that's easier said than done.
The Mobile Wild West
"People call mobile the wild west, because there aren't even any guidelines," Wilson said. "Mobile now is like the Internet 10 years ago."
Where other industries have more freedom to leverage electronic marketing tools such as banner ads, pharma companies are tied down by fair-balance regulations. "I don't think pharma will ever be able to do the kind of display advertising other companies are doing in mobile media," said Wilson. "It's not like there is a two-page banner ad that can show fair balance on the other side."
Instead, pharma is circumventing FDA rules by sending health information via short messaging services (SMS). Some other uses for mobile marketing reported by ePharma5 include:
The report also runs through a litany of tips that companies should consider when engaging in mobile marketing tactics.
Not Just Kids' Fun
A point the report hammers home is that young people are not the only ones using SMS. Sixteen percent of young baby boomers text daily, as do 10 percent of people aged 55 to 64.
For example, Pfizer placed 20,000 posters in doctors' offices to promote Lipitor to boomers and seniors. Consumers were encouraged to dial a toll-free number to request mobile coupons that could then be redeemed at the pharmacy. The program had a 55 percent coupon redemption rate, according to the report.
So is mobile the wave of the marketing future? Wilson wouldn't go that far, but she insisted that the few companies spearheading the charge are sparking interest among their peers. With more than 230 million wireless phone users in the United States alone, it's hard to argue that mobile has arrived.