Alternative Media: Opt-in to Opt-out
But the spam problem continues to grow unabated. IDC, a technology research firm, estimates that spam comprises about 38 percent of all e-mails sent in 2004 in North America, up two percentage points from 2003. The problem, in some cases, has become so bad that marketers are taking issues into their own hands. Case in point is Pfizer, who teamed up with Microsoft to bring suit against two spammers hawking Viagra (sildenafil).
PharmExec: What effect has CAN-SPAM had on the industry?
Nugent: I think CAN-SPAM affords pharma marketers a lot more freedom and ability to reach professionals through e-mail than they are currently taking advantage of.
In the run up to CAN-SPAM, the e-mail marketing community in general, and the pharma marketing community in particular, was anticipating an opt-in law. In other words, if companies wanted to e-mail physicians, they would have to first obtain their permission.
But the law actually emerged as an opt-out standard, which means companies can send e-mails until physicians tell them not to, and then they are obligated by law to honor that request. But, within the industry, the mentality persists that the only way to conduct e-mail campaigns in a proper fashion is on an opt-in basis.
Is that because physicians often opt-out from e-mail communications?
Actually, quite the opposite. In our e-mail service, very, very few physicians choose to opt out, probably under one percent.
So what's the problem with that thinking?
The problem is, if marketers hold themselves to a standard that is far above the law that says, "I need explicit permission from a physician that grants me, pharmaceutical company P, permission to send an e-mail to Dr. X regarding product Y," you are going to have a very high level of permission, but you will have a very low percentage of the marketplace covered.
Will the issues surrounding Vioxx (rofecoxib) cause companies to re-allocate promotion dollars into e-mail marketing?
It is probably a little too early to see any trends like that based on Vioxx, but direct marketing, and included in that, e-mail marketing, should get more attention.
After all, companies have to watch out that they're not creating plaintiffs as they advertise. One of the problems with DTC advertising for Vioxx was that Dorothy Hamill made it sound like this stuff was just the greatest thing since sliced bread. The fact that DTC, and in particular TV, can accelerate rollout velocity as it clearly has shown it can, really puts everything on fast forward. By the time you detect adverse outcomes, you already have a $2.5 billion drug.
What other reasons should pharma marketers consider e-mail campaigns?
It will cut marketing costs. If you can substitute direct marketing for some of that investment in the sales force, I think pharmaceutical companies will market a lot smarter. And they will market a lot more like other businesses in other industries. The rest of the world does not pay people $150,000 a year to deliver free products. Most companies would go out of business if they operated that way.
What's your advice to executives who want to more effectively use this medium?
Companies should do more marketing to professionals than consumers, allowing them more of a learned intermediary defense to hide behind. And companies can benefit from that approach from a litigation standpoint with the early adopter/late adopter phenomenon in the profession. If you take one hundred doctors, maybe twenty of them are early adopters, and the other eighty are going to wait and see what happens. That doesn't work in your favor on Wall Street, which wants a blockbuster in the first six months. But it does work to your favor from a risk management point-of-view.
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