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Aug16
Internet Pharmaceutical Marketing: cDetailing, Behavioral Marketing and Health Search Engines
Yesterday, eMarketer released a report looking at how pharmaceutical companies are leveraging the Internet to deliver highly-targeted marketing campaigns to patients.  The company projects that pharma’s Internet marketing spend will increase by 25% this year to $780 million.  (Please note: I have not purchased the full eMarketer report that provides more information about how this statistic was generated.  However, the company does note that it benchmarks its estimates against the Interactive Marketing Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers.)

The Internet is becoming increasingly attractive as drug companies contend with new PhRMA voluntary guidelines on DTC advertising and increased public and government scrutiny of its marketing practices.  First, drug firms are shifting from mass-market promotional campaigns to educational initiatives (see this Envision Solutions report for more on this topic).  Second, the Web enables companies to deliver highly-targeted marketing messages and comply with regulations on how to communicate about drug safety and efficacy. The Rise of cDetailing

John Mack, author of the Pharma Marketing Blog, has highlighted the rise of cDetailing,  where drug firms deliver highly-relevant product information via Web-based animation and video.  This content usually features detailed information about drug trials and side effects.  Prior to the advent of cDetailing, companies generally provided this level of information to physicians.

Behavioral Marketing and Big Pharma

Today’s New York Times has an article on behavioral marketing.  This is the the practice of providing people with specific advertising messages based on their search or Website visit behavior.  The Times highlights how Yahoo is:

“[Analyzing] records of what each of its 500 million users do on its site: what they search for, what pages they read, what ads they click on. It then tries to show them advertisements that speak directly to their interests and the events in their lives.”

Privacy advocates are leery about the practice of collecting data on users’ search habits.  Last week's AOL incident, where the company released details of users’ search patterns, only heightened concerns.

Despite the controversy over behavioral marketing, some are suggesting that pharmaceutical companies embrace it. One prominent booster is R.J. Lewis, President and CEO of e-Healthcare Solutions.

On its face, the idea seems interesting.  Consumers are already avidly searching the Internet for healthcare-related information.  Why should drug firms pass up the opportunity to target this population using behavioral marketing?

Despite its attractions, behavioral marketing has its pitfalls. First, as the AOL incident illustrates, it is not very hard to link a person to their search habits.  Drug companies could be at risk of violating patient privacy laws if the data they (or their vendors) collected become public.

Some Health Search Engines Opting Out of Behavioral Marketing

Some health-focused search firms are very leery of behavioral marketing.  Healthline is one of them.  In an interview I published last week, Bill McGee, Healthline’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales said that the company has “refused all requests to use our data [to conduct behavioral marketing].  At this point it is unclear whether other firms like WebMD and Healia may be more wiling.

It remains to be seen how cDetailing, and behavioral marketing will play out in the pharmaceutical promotions arena.  However, there is every indication that Big Pharma will continue to leverage the Internet to reach highly-engaged consumers of healthcare information.

4 Comments/Trackbacks




The virtual market becomes attractive for the pharmaceutical companies also. It's an easy and practical way of making well-known on the market.

Interesting comment. Can you tell me more?

Health-focused portals are poised to become the next big vertical market online. The current leader, WebMD, has been joined by EverydayHealth.com and the rebranded HealthCentral Network. Waiting in the wings is Revolution, a consumer health site backed by former AOL founder Steve Case. Every major portal — Google, Yahoo!, AOL and MSN — offers page after page of consumer health information, and the Web is filling up with smaller sites targeted to special health interests.

Health-focused portals are poised to become the next big vertical market online. The current leader, WebMD, has been joined by EverydayHealth.com and the rebranded HealthCentral Network. Waiting in the wings is Revolution, a consumer health site backed by former AOL founder Steve Case. Every major portal — Google, Yahoo!, AOL and MSN — offers page after page of consumer health information, and the Web is filling up with smaller sites targeted to special health interests.

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