Category Archives: Health Advertising

Patient Hot Buttons in Pharma — Series with Casey Quinlan

Introduction: I met Casey Quinlan in October 2011 when we both presented at a Digital Pharma industry conference hosted by DTC Perspectives. Casey describes herself as a “rabble rouser”, and of course, I cannot resist. This is a series of conversations with Casey on various “Patient Hot Buttons in Pharma” that we will be relay-blogging.

Casey

Jane

Segments of this Series:

Absurd Advertising

Lack of Transparency

Behind the scenes manipulation we sense but can’t see

Lack of Presence

Cost

Pharma Companies that Can’t Handle Comments Should Get Off Facebook, Good Riddance!

Jonathan at Dose of Digital talks about pharma’s fear of Facebook pages centering around 2 issues that pharma thinks require 24/7 monitoring: Adverse Events and negative publicity.

I hear the same excuse on why pharma companies are so scared to look at patient comments on blogs: adverse events.

I’m sorry, but adverse events are happening whether pharma companies are monitoring or not, and this is different from monitoring whether someone’s posting something “bad” about your company (newsflash: not everyone’s going to like you, better to expect it and have rules to address it than bury your head in the sand).


Adverse events are crucial for patient adherence and avoiding Facebook comments for fear of posts on AE is a missed opportunity for pharma to engage with patients in an issue that they all care about.

Patients expect drugs to work — rarely will patients want to get on a pharma page to thank the company for making a product that works. You may have a cancer patient who will do this if the company has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help the patient gain access to the drug that the patient otherwise cannot afford. But for the most part, patients have a “love-hate” relationship with pharma companies that is more “hate” than “love”, and I can’t blame patients for feeling this way.

What patients gripe about, and fear, and dread, are the adverse events.

Adverse events chip away a patient’s hope of getting better.

Adverse events erode a patient’s quality of life.

Adverse events make patients wonder, “would I rather stay ill, or deal with this horrible side effect?”

Then they look at companies avoiding discussion about something that is so key to their treatment experience, they naturally assume “profits before patients”. Never mind the realities of bureaucracy in adverse event reporting, I know it’s a bitch… the FDA knows it too.

That’s how pharma companies come across in their being so scared about Facebook.

Funny… I rarely recall pharma companies coming across scared when some of their sales and marketing teams find creative ways to fly under the radar to promote off-label. Somehow these companies are fine with breaking the law to “expand” usage of their drugs, but now they’re claiming they can’t deal with lack of guidance where Facebook pages are concerned.

Better companies pull their pages off Facebook if they are hard-headed about not allowing comments. Leave those who are more enlightened to get those patients’ eyeballs and possibly gain some goodwill.

Companies who want to control the message and behave hypocritically are doing the right thing by leaving Facebook: they aren’t adding value on the social network anyway.

Pharma and Social Media: It’s Not About Controlling the Conversation, but Finding the Right Venues for Engagement

Now that Facebook Pages is to Marketing what LinkedIn Profiles is to Job Seeking – pharma companies are in pickle: Facebook is going to open up comments no matter what.

This means pharma companies can no longer restrict people from commenting on their Facebook pages.

Er…. DUH! Why is this big news? People get on Facebook to socialize – and not just to socialize – but to socialize in a mildly (or very) uninhibited manner. Facebook is MySpace done artfully and profitably, where we aren’t subjected to blinking starry page backgrounds or annoying music on auto-loop.

But remember why Facebook was created, and why Facebook has taken off with businesses – it is because when people are less inhibited, they are more suggestive, and more likely to click on links that businesses want them to click to buy stuff!

If businesses want stuffy and formal – there’s already a Facebook for that – it’s called LinkedIn.

I realize that it makes good sense for pharma to get its brands and company names out there. The problem is that when the public engages pharma, if they don’t ask about products, what would they want to engage pharma about?

[Assuming they aren’t interested in engaging pharma companies to ask, “why are you charging such high prices for drugs I need to save my life?”]

It’s akin to expecting a customer who drives a Toyota Corolla here in the U.S. not to engage the company Toyota to ask about the Corolla he drives. Unless that customer happens to work in an area that involves some business process, thereby predisposing the customer to want to ask about how Toyota “the company” works, customers often equate the company with the brands they use.

I understand that pharma industry supporters, including myself, would love if pharma can once again establish credibility with consumers by focusing on their support of disease state research and advancement.

Only another party’s already settled in that domain: they’re called physicians.

Physicians are typically seen as providers of support to patients in disease areas, from the consumer perspective. Let’s say I experience the symptoms of clinical depression – I’d naturally think, “I need to seek info from the doctors (once I learn more about this on the web)”.

I am not thinking, “I wonder what information GSK or Pfizer is providing in treating depression.” I’m not even thinking, “I wonder how Forest Laboratories or AstraZeneca are supporting R&D in depression relapse.”

But I may think in drug names, like, “I wonder if I should ask my doctor about Abilify, or Zoloft.”

[note: this would be an off-label use of Abilify, since Abilify is not approved for first-line use in treating depression, only as an adjunct to a first-line treatment if that treatment isn’t working as well as it should; it’s like a “boost”. But I use Abilify because I’ve been seeing so many ads on TV for it, and I honestly haven’t seen that Zoloft bouncy little ball in ages on TV.]

Thus there is first a cognitive hurdle that will not be easily passed. It is that diploma on the wall that garners the physician ‘credibility’, just as it is the commercial/business status that garners the pharma industry ‘lack of credibility’ when it comes to its participation as providers of information on the disease state, no matter how objective pharma tries to be.

In fact, even a recent survey of U.S. physicians had shown that they don’t want to pay for their own CMEs, yet they also won’t trust the CME content that is supported by pharma thereby making CME affordable (“free”) for them!

Logistically, the speed of Facebook and Twitter is exactly why Pharma should must hesitate.

People don’t go on FB/TW expecting a support-ticket time-frame (“slow”) response. They are on these platforms for just in time/immediate responses (“fast” “NOW!”). Otherwise, why bother? There are already online forums or patient info phone numbers for support-ticket speed “communication”.

It is not just about the platform, but the patient expectation that comes with the platform.

If you had ever engaged in a hashtag-driven Twitter chat, then you’d know how it’s next to impossible to follow every single conversation that comes at you in firehose fashion. Imagine then if there’s one or two patient complaints or problems amid the 20 other divergent discussions.

That’s what trying to retain “form” around a topical discussion may look like when Facebook comments are opened up for pharma.

[Lest any of us had forgotten – remember the “Motrin Mom” event, where a twitter indignation went viral and before the end of the weekend, the U.S. VP of Marketing at McNeil had to take that YouTube ad down? Try controlling THAT hashtag outbreak; I was there and saw how quickly it amplified.]

I’m 100% for increasing dialog between industry and consumers/public. Yet I think we can’t equate social media platforms the same, just as we can’t equate popular venues the same for medical education.

There are some social media platforms that are akin to a quiet, business like conference room.

Then there are social media platforms where people go for happy hour and unwind and engage in more personal conversations than business.

Then there are social media platforms where people go in expecting a brawl and in fact that’s why they showed up in the first place.

Pharma needs to identify these types of platforms and, rather than forcing or imposing artificial constraints by making everyone show up to a bar in a business suit.

The question Pharma needs to ask is, “is the purpose we intend to serve by showing up here feasibly achievable by the expectations of the crowd who will also show up?”

Big Pharma Shilling and WebMD.com MayoClinic.com Smack-Down

New York Times Online is likening WebMD’s “information” as “using the meretricious voice of a pharmaceutical rep”.

I don’t know… I never found WebMD’s interface “apparently attractive” but I suppose some people like all the flashy stuff. I mean, I find the ads on NakedMedicine.com mildly annoying, but these only go toward keeping the site alive and paying for the internet connection. If I had to start paying staff writers and “physician experts”, I can see how I may need to squeeze ads onto every available white space on a website.

The few times when I did look at WebMD there are so many different ads for so many different things (often unrelated to the topic on the page) that it’s no wonder WebMD brings in over $500M revenues a year. The only time I recall seeing an ad-free page on WebMD is on their “CME” topics… and I do wonder who is paying for those (and for how much!) to keep those pages ad-free. Someone’s paying for these.

But I personally like MayoClinic.com if only for the ease of getting at the information I was looking for without having to block a gazillion ads.

I think Ms. Heffernan is seeing more of the truth in the relationships between the members of the American Medical Association and the drug industry through what she sees on WebMD.com . Maybe in the doctors’ offices we get to see a sprinkling of drug “detail pieces” and miss the piles that are thrown away or hidden (I’ve always wondered why drug companies don’t just stop leaving these behind because they’re the biggest waste of trees). The real goodies are often hidden away – in the form of shadowy monetary compensation that the feds have caught up on.

After all, when you get a world famous oncologist bragging about how many thousands of dollars he can get drug companies to pay him “per patient” in a clinical study, what’s a drug company to do?

Pharmacy and McDonald’s: Strange Bedfellows that Aren’t so Strange

My friend Natalie Bourre saw my post about the non-biodegradable Happy Meal photo-essay and told me about a Canadian Pharmacy that had, as part of its weekly promotion, a coupon for McDonald’s.

This promotion is no longer on the corporate website, so you will have to visit Nat’s blog to see the screenshot she captured when those coupons were prominently displayed at the “CLICK ME NOW!”-eye-level.

Here’s what we DO have for this week’s promotion, however. A special offer for seniors who spend $50 or more with the drug store:

And here’s why I think it’s not so strange that a pharmacy should accept advertising from McDonald’s, and why an establishment advocating for better consumer health would not be a strange bedfellow with a fast food company:

If we are all more responsible with our health and become epitomes of good prevention and healthy lifestyle choices, pharmacies would go out of business. Or at least struggle a bit in the pharmacy business.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ll always need drugs and stuff that pharmacies dispense, by the mere reality that we are mortal and therefore subject to the systematic and gradual deterioration called “aging”. But people who don’t have serious health issues requiring chronic medication and healthcare intervention aren’t going to be frequenting drug stores. Healthy people who don’t need medication are not that great for the long term robustness of a drug dispensing business.

Let’s also not forget that when we’re at the drug store waiting for our prescription filled, we also get to wander around the aisles for some impulse purchase, as well as doing some shopping for toothpaste or shampoo or laundry detergent or Halloween costumes (drug stores these days are almost like departmental stores, offering things you’d normally not associate with drug stores)! It’s not just the drugs dispensed, but all the opportunistic non-medical drug store purchases that contribute to the bottom line.

The way I see it, promoting McDonald’s now may help create new customers for tomorrow.