Alternative Media: Honey, I Shrunk the Ad Campaign - Pharmaceutical Executive


Alternative Media: Honey, I Shrunk the Ad Campaign
Pharma companies turn to mobile technology to deliver health information and sample coupons direct to consumers' cell phones.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Novartis offered pollen-count text alerts to promote the launch of a new allergy nasal spray for hay fever, Aller-eze, during National Allergy Week in England. The alert service enabled patients to receive personalized, up-to-date, pollen-count information by short message service (SMS), with special alerts on days when the pollen counts were particularly high in their geographic location. The company also texted tips to help patients manage hay fever.

Words to Know:
One drug manufacturer, marketing a new sleep aid, posted advertisements for the medication in doctors' offices. The ad material invited patients to text HELP to the phone number SLEEP (75337) to receive periodic tips for easing insomnia, along with an mCoupon for a free trial of the company's product.

Another early adopter of mobile marketing ran an ad campaign encouraging allergy sufferers to text their zip code to ALLRGY (255749) to receive local pollen-count alerts and an mCoupon for a free sample. The mobile number was included in point-of-sale pharmacy displays, a Sunday newspaper insert, and store fliers. A similar tactic was used in an anti-smoking campaign that invited smokers to text SMOKE to STPNOW (787669) to receive periodic motivational tips, along with a sample mCoupon for smoking cessation medication. The company used mass-market media to get the message out, including ads in pop-culture magazines, television commercials, street posters, and public transport billboards.

Calling All Clinical Trials

Mobile marketing offers more than just direct-to-consumer advertising opportunities. The technology also can benefit clinical trials. Trial participants can text their medical team with the exact time they took the medication. This use of cellular technology allows doctors to observe real-time feedback, and instantly track a patient's progress.

The same strategy can be used in reverse to help boost patient compliance, a billion-dollar problem for the medical industry. A simple schedule of alerts can be sent to a patient's phone to remind them when it's time to take their medication.

During a trial for Rifafol, for tuberculosis, which requires six months of treatment to be effective, 32 patients in South Africa were sent reminder alerts to take medication via their cell phones. This resulted in full compliance from the group, and led to 31 of the 32 testing TB-free by the end of the trial. Additionally, many HIV patients use mobile alerts as reminders to follow their medication schedules.

And this is just a start. Future mobile applications could include streaming short commercials to consumers using broadband video, as well as interactive surveys that can be answered on a cell phone. The only hindrance is access to technology. Although most new phones have text-messaging features, on-demand video is still a relatively new concept. As mobile marketing gets more sophisticated, and consumers rely on their cell phones for more than just making calls, the possibilities for pharmaceutical companies to leverage mobile marketing will only continue to grow.

Nihal Mehta is co-founder and CEO of ipsh! He can be reached at


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