Media Spend Trends: Change the Channel - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Media Spend Trends: Change the Channel
Drug marketers still spend lots of money. But they aim at PhRMA loopholes.


Pharmaceutical Executive


"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.


Cyber Awareness
"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 [2006] 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 campaign.


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