A Hard Pill to Swallow


Just as there are challenges facing all sectors of online marketers and advertisers, online pharmaceutical companies have their own roadblocks to combat. Whether if it’s simply issues with creative restrictions or an organization who is protesting to rid the U.S. of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, online pharmaceutical marketers have to find a way to exist and thrive.

Akin to a time when pharmaceutical advertisers were flocking to TV and print, they are now at least on the cusp of doing the same with online. While they’ve been slow with their move to the online space, according to Jupiter Research, the health and pharmaceutical industries have begun to take big steps to change that. Jupiter’s research shows that online advertising spending for health and pharmaceuticals have grown from $340 million in 2004 to $410 million in 2005. By 2010, Jupiter Research anticipates that this number will reach $660 million.

They certainly aren’t marketing in vain either. According to a recent study by Manhattan Research, more than 22 million consumers are now reportedly going online to learn more about the pharmaceutical products advertised to them against only 6.2 million consumers who called the 800 number for more information. Add to that the study’s revelation that 41.6 million consumers agree that DTC advertising for a specific prescription drug directly impacted their decision to seek additional information about the condition mentioned in the advertisement, and you’ll understand exactly why they’re shifting their budgets to the online space.

But even with the shift in budget and the consumer interest, getting that product message across to them comes with a few challenges. One of those challenges, says Jere Doyle, President/CEO of performance-based, online marketing solutions company Prospectiv, is finding the right people to trust with your brand. With an overwhelming amount of illegitimate marketers pushing prescription drugs online, it can be tough to stand out as a legitimate pharmaceutical company. “I think the biggest challenge is finding the right partners and I think that’s critical,” Doyle says. “They’ve got to be very careful with who they spend their marketing dollars with.”

He continues, “The legitimate companies are not doing the mass market email; they’re building their lists first including email. They’re also doing a lot of branding so running banner ads, rich media campaigns… on some really very nice branded sites that fit the target market. Sites like WebMD, iVillage and Healthier.com are where people [want to] go to research information. I think mass marketing doesn’t happen on the Internet. The Internet is not for mass marketing, in my opinion; the internet is for targeting [and] reaching people for the illness you know they have.”

But when you step away from the email side of pharmaceutical marketing and step onto the web page, you have a whole different set of issues. Last week I touched on the creative problems media buyers and planners face when producing an online pharmaceutical ad. Because pharmaceutical companies are required, when advertising, to keep the ad fair balanced—the ad must specify both the risks and the benefits—it understandably creates a problem in terms of selling the product and leaving the consumer with a positive lasting impression.

Doug Levy, President of imc2, a full-service independent interactive agency whose business —he tells me – grew 60% last year because of their pharmaceutical marketing, shared with me some of his insights about the challenges imc2 faces with that sector of their online advertising. He shares a study’s findings, saying, “When consumers looked at a TV spot for pharmaceutical products, 79% of them remembered the risks about the product—so the negatives about the product—and 71% remembered the benefit information. Essentially what [this study] is showing is that TV advertising is teaching consumers about the detriment of products, not the benefits of products.”

Even creatively, where TV advertising creates this negative impression in consumers’ minds, the Internet paints a different picture. “With the Internet, you can be a little bit more graceful,” Levy adds. “Of course you still have to have the fair balance, but you can also incorporate that into the piece a little more gracefully.” What he means by this, and perhaps one of the solutions to this problem, are the websites companies like his create to educate consumers about certain pharmaceuticals. So while the consumer may see an ad and want to find out more, the Internet provides that opportunity where TV does not.

Levy offers an example of one of these kinds of sites that imc2 has created to educate the consumer while advertising a product. “We did a campaign recently for Eli Lilly and Company for a product of theirs called Cymbalta,” he explains. “It’s an anti-depression drug and we created a disease education site called depressionhurts.com and you can see a symptom body map, you can see are you impacted by depression, you can see how depression affects your body, you can take a quiz, you can print information out, [and] you can even print a rebate out. There’s a great depth of information both about the disease and linking to the product.”


  1. another poorly written article. the author’s articles are rarely well informed and often outright wrong. I’m officially not reading them anymore.

    And I think it’s a joke that the Adnetwork porn comments were turned on…and the kontraband editor comments removed. His comments had nothing to do with free speech. Agent Red just didn’t like being criticized.


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