Alternative Media: Honey, I Shrunk the Ad Campaign

January 1, 2007

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

Mobile marketing is paperless and scalable, and allows pharma companies to build one-to-one relationships with customers.

Bigger doesn't always mean better. Thanks to the ever-expanding cellular phone market, pharma companies can now deliver product information to the pint-sized device consumers rely on the most—their cell phones.

Nihal Mehta

The strategy is mobile marketing: the use of cellular technology to deliver targeted healthcare information and sample coupons to portable devices. Much like e-mail campaigns, mobile marketing is a permission-based tool that allows users to opt in (or out) to receive promotions via their mobile phone. This approach is paperless and scalable, and allows companies to build one-to-one relationships with customers.

Given that more than 210 million Americans currently own cell phones, and wireless networks have become faster and more efficient over the years, mobile marketing is becoming a viable option for pharma. Potential benefits include boosting customer acquisition and brand loyalty, and increasing customer compliance and retention.

Reach Out and Text Someone

With the push for integrated campaigns, marketers are including mobile media as part of their strategic programs. Mobile information can be woven into most advertising media, including television, radio, retail point-of-sale, billboards, and online. With the incentive of either gaining valuable information or perhaps entering a contest, consumers send a short text message to a five- or six-digit phone number embedded in the promotional materials. These messages can be customized words that relate to the company, brand, or service. Another strategy is to offer mobile coupons, or mCoupons, that can be sent directly to a cell phone.

The key to a successful mobile marketing campaign is to integrate the text message and phone number in all related advertising material, much like you would list a Web site or traditional phone number. By including the option to text for information, you increase the chance of interactivity between a brand and consumers. This strategy also drives consumers to opt in to receive future promotions and information by phone or e-mail.

A (Smart) Phone Campaign

A few pharmaceutical companies have already jumped on the mobile-marketing bandwagon.

Pfizer successfully incorporated mobile outreach as part of its nationwide integrated-marketing campaign to promote Lipitor. The company placed posters advertising mCoupons for trial drugs in more than 20,000 doctors' offices. Patients redeemed a 30-day free trial by calling a toll-free number and pressing the "1" key to request that the mCoupon be sent to their mobile phone. Once users received the mCoupon, they could present the text message, along with their prescription, to a pharmacist and receive a free Lipitor trial. Using mobile technology, Pfizer received detailed metrics, including the total number of calls received and how many mCoupon messages were sent. The data helped the company gauge the success and acceptance of the promotion.

"By incorporating mobile into our larger marketing efforts, we are able to reach a motivated audience who can speak to their physicians and try Lipitor," says Pfizer marketing manager Emad Abdelnaby. "With mobile coupons we have lower costs and significantly better measurability than we would running the same program with paper coupons."

With mobile coupons, consumers can receive free drug samples just by showing a text message to their pharmacist.

And Pfizer isn't the only Big Pharma company to engage in mobile marketing. Johnson & Johnson aired an Acuvue commercial during the MTV Video Music Awards that invited viewers to text WIN to MYEYE (69393). By doing so, they were entered in a contest to win a trip to next year's awards and receive an mCoupon for a free trial of Acuvue. More than 70,000 viewers responded to the single airdate of the ad.

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.

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.

Words to Know:

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 nihal@ipsh.com