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Vertex Pharmaceuticals Brings Transparency Online


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-12-18-2007
Volume 0
Issue 0

Drug manufacturer shakes things up with new Web site that functions as an open book into the world of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The company hopes that its transparent approach to design will be a lesson to pharma companies still fearful of online media.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals, last week, reinvented itself on the World Wide Web with the relaunch of its corporate site, www.vrtx.com. Not content to look like most run-of-the-mill pharma sites, Vertex had design firm Dotglu build a virtual home that allows patients, physicians, and other visitors to easily peer into the company's pipeline and find out what drugs are coming down the pike as well as see the faces behind the company.

"It's a sea of sameness when you look at pharma," Tomas Mendez, cocreative director at Dotglu told Pharm Exec. "[Other companies] just show puppies and old people waltzing and say that everything will be OK. The tag line for Vertex includes the word maybe. It's a lot less confident, but it gives you goose bumps. There's a humility to it, and that's about the honesty."

Concept to Creation
Vertex executives never felt the need to have more than a simple online presence since all drugs developed were in collaboration with other pharma manufacturers. But with a hepatitis C drug inching towards completion, the powers that be decided that the company needed to redefine its presence on the World Wide Web, and it was going to come out with a site that eschews every concept of a corporate pharmaceutical Web site.

The site sports a ton of flash, an intuitive navigation system, and an easy-to-follow description of what the company is working on and how far along its products are. Although many of the site's individual elements have been included in other sites, most pharma company sites have a lot of marketing-oriented material and images on the home page, whereas this one really favors access to information, putting it in the spot where you expect promo.

"This is a way of showing who we are, almost separate from having a product on the market," said Vertex Senior Director of Strategic Communications Michael Partridge. "This is a good time to introduce the Vertex brand to people and have that brand positioning grow as we get closer to market."

The company wanted to push the envelope in terms of how it communicates through the Web, so it turned to Dotglu for creative direction and basically let the Web designers have free reign to build the site as they pleased.

The result is an intuitive site that maps out all navigation using a timeline chart (designed to look like a sound wave) that runs along the top of every page. It serves as a navigational tool and guides the user through the site. Vertex's pipeline stands center stage in the timeline and jumps to an page that lists all the working products, give the phases of development, and—if you hover over a point in the pipeline—displays a pop-up text box that describes what the drug does.

"A lot of companies will bury where their products are in the pipeline," Mendez said. "If you are left on the pipeline, there are years ahead of you and you won't see return on investment for a while and the drug may tank. Usually, when you are looking around for the inventory of a drug company, they obfuscate it. And we don't."

Searching through the section about the executive team, visitors will find multiple images of different team members. As viewers click on different images, the executive's outfit changes, which is intended to show the different hats an executive at Vertex wears.

"There's a level of irreverence that completely counters what pharma does, but it is not irreverence that disrespects the gravity of pharmaceuticals," Mendez said. "If it's done properly, it won't alienate anyone and it will seem honest. It will also appeal to different constituents."

Mendez shares some advice for other pharma companies looking to overhaul their Web presence: "Pharma companies need to think of their Web sites almost as an advertising campaign that really needs a strong point of view, and not a million mini points of view."

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