"When you see the Depression Hurts TV commercial, they're talking about a Web site, not a medication," Boehm says. "They're
telling the viewer, 'Look, depression is a bigger problem than we can explain in a TV ad, so go to this Web site, where we
have more of your time and attention.'"
"Six or eight years ago you may have just done a Web site with a little more information than your print or TV ad gave," says
Richard Campbell, partner of healthcare marketing agency Regan Campbell Ward (RCW). "People are doing a much better job of
making information work for them as opposed to viewing Web sites as something you just have to do."
Well beyond early invitations to simply "Visit us at www dot," the Web offers chatrooms, blogs, listservs, message boards,
groups, and instant messaging—many of which can be accessed from wireless hand-held devices. Some pharmaceutical marketers
are eager to embrace these newer, sophisticated tools—but only if they don't risk opening a can of worms.
"More often than not, pharma is keeping its involvement with blogs and public Web sites at arms length," Boehm says. Unfettered
online chatter can leave a pharmaceutical company open to a host of liability issues, says Campbell. "If I put up a Web site
and allow anyone to contribute, it's still my Web site," he says. "I have a legal responsibility to report side effects if
they're discussed, and to try to control the conversation to stay within the drug's FDA-approved indication."
But something like search-engine optimization is another matter. Weaving key search terms into pharmaceutical Web sites to
bump up their ranking in popular Internet search engines—increasing the likelihood of a visit—is an evolving art.
"We used search-engine optimization and placement strategies for one of our clients, Bioval, which markets Zovirax [acyclovir],
a treatment for oral and genital herpes," says Maureen Regan, CEO at RCW. "Visitor activity on the Zovirax site was linked
directly to our own, enabling us to, for example, ascertain how many hits the site got and capture visitors' names. This media
is ideal for reaching smaller markets with a very targeted audience."
Shaking Things Up
Last year's Spend Trends Report ("Changing Lanes," Pharm Exec, May 2005) predicted a shift in DTC spending from big branded campaigns to more disease awareness and medication compliance
efforts. Those predictions appear to be on target, although the change may seem subtle at first.
"The shift will be taking place behind the scenes, and it will take time," Boehm says. "This year  is an infrastructure-building
year, and we'll see the results two or three years down the road. When change is intelligence-driven, you see less extreme
shifts, based not on fashion or whim. Most of the things pharmaceutical companies try, do work." Intelligence, says Boehm,
will provide information about the extent to which pharma companies' tactics work, and in what combination.
Additionally, adds Gascoigne, DTC marketers should bear in mind that the regulatory environment is less friendly than it once
was. "I think the question DTC marketers must ask, if we want to keep it as a viable form of communication, is: Does what
we're doing adhere to the regulatory guidelines?"
Guidelines Hit Home at Pfizer
Perhaps the biggest change suggested by PhRMA's Guiding Principles calls for pharmaceutical companies to spend "an appropriate
amount of time" educating health professionals about new medicines or therapeutic indications, before beginning a new DTC