Pharma Still Taking Baby Steps on the Web

February 27, 2008

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

Avenue A|Razorfish's new digital-outlook report indicates that pharma is still floundering online. Though some pharma companies are taking steps to make their online presence known, others are still crawling.

Electronic-media agency Avenue A|Razorfish released on Monday the results of its fourth annual digital-outlook report for all vertical markets. While pharma is making strides to boost its Web presence, the industry has a long way to go.

Key Pharma Takeaways
According to the report, consumer media consumption continues to fragment, and buying only endemic inventory to reach target consumers is becoming an increasingly less effective use of the digital channel. In 2005, health content led advertising spend online. But both community/social sites and entertainment have now dethroned health as king of online ad dollars.

"Pharma marketers must be increasingly creative with how they engage their target consumers," said Brian M. Krick, director of search marketing at Avenue A. "The standard approach of buying all the content for whatever indication was on the table is getting less effective in terms of how to blanket a consumer."

Community, social, and user-generated content is not a fad and continues to grow. Forrester Research recently reported that one in five consumers are using social computing as the sole means of gaining knowledge about their health conditions, according to Krick. The highest share belonged to consumers looking at mood disorders besides depression (37 percent), followed by insomnia and skin disorders.

"We're not talking about people who have insomnia and happen to have a Facebook page," Krick told Pharm Exec. "These are people who are using social networking to treat their conditions."

Peer Pressure
Put up against other vertical industries, pharma is getting trounced by e-retailers with or without a brick-and-mortar component. Companies that reside in the digital channel are looking at ways to impact the user experience because they can immediately realize results of changes in their media plan on the bottom line, Krick said.

The travel industry also caught up and eclipsed pharma in recent months. Progressive travel companies that have fully engaged the Web are leading the pack.

Alternative to the Alternative
As return on investment becomes more important in a recession, digital will continue to hold strong—not just online, but in the new digitized traditional media as well.

For example, Novartis used mobile technology to push its high-blood-pressure treatment Diovan. Novartis placed placards in waiting rooms that encouraged patients to text a SMS short code to a number on the card for health information. Within seconds, patients received a list of questions to ask their doctor during the examination.

"In the United States, folks are not nearly as prepared to investigate real medical conditions on their cell phones," Krick said. "BrandWeek and eMarketer.com looked at the 99 larger brand sites in pharma and found that there is only one with a mobile platform. Pharma is not moving onto the mobile platform really quickly, but that might not be what consumers are looking for."