Friday, November 24, 2006

Chantix: Opportunity for Social Marketing Lost?

Chantix, Pfizer's new smoking-cessation drug, requires a different kind of marketing program, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal ("Marketing New Antismoking Pill Poses Challenges for Pfizer"):

"Aware of increased consumer cynicism and unfulfilled promises made for smoking treatments in the past, Pfizer has adopted a softer sell that it hopes will build Chantix steadily over time. Meanwhile, because insurers are slow to cover smoking treatments, it has priced Chantix so that consumers will be willing to pay for it themselves."

Pfizer's solution is a support program called the GETQUIT(tm) Support Plan, which includes the following components as described on the Web site:
Each day GETQUIT provides you with an email or phone call which gives you encouragement, advice, activities and information designed to help you through the quitting process. You will also have a personalized web page, which provides daily updates to help you track your progress. After twelve weeks your email or phone contacts will become less frequent. It's important to know that you can decide to stop being in the program or reduce the frequency of your contacts at any time.

The GETQUIT program is available to you for at least a year.
What to expect from GETQUIT:

* Daily help for the next 12 weeks, as you take your CHANTIX as prescribed by your doctor and ongoing support for up to a year.
* Activities that will help you prepare to quit. Strategies to help you cope with cravings, when you have urges to smoke. And help breaking your smoking routine.
* Encouragement, advice, and information to help you stay quit.
* A personalized web page designed to help you track your progress.
* Questions to help you measure your progress. Each day we’ll ask you if you've smoked, if you've taken CHANTIX as prescribed by your doctor, and if you've been having urges to smoke. Your honest answers will help you chart your progress and will help you get the right information
Despite the good intentions of this program and kudos given to Pfizer for tackling compliance head on (see World of DTC Marketing: "Pfizer listens to patients and may get a blockbuster as a result"), this is not as innovative a program as it could be.

Web 2.0
I think smoking cessation support is a perfect application for Web 2.0 (aka, social networking) technology. In fact, it has been done before with another smoking cessation drug.

First, what is Web 2.0? Here's what I found on Wikipedia:
"Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004, refers to a supposed second generation of Internet-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users."
The particular precedent I am thinking of used online bulletin boards where smokers who were attempting to quit could share stories, experience and encourage one another. There was even an online "buddy"--a fellow traveler so to speak who shared your characteristics. You could draw on your buddy for more personalized support. These bulletin boards were linked to the product information supplied by the sponsoring pharmaceutical company (I forget which company). It was a great way for a brand to interact with an online patient community.

It seems that the pharmaceutical industry has taken one step forward and two steps backward with programs like GETQUIT and Question Everything (a faux social networking site sponsored by GSK for Alli, an obesity medication; see "Question Everything").

These programs seem innovative, but are not as forward thinking as some Web programs that were pioneered ten years ago before the dotcom crash!

A Novel Idea
GETQUIT could be much better and perhpas ultimately more successful selling product if it honestly implemented a social networking environment where patients could post their own experiences, help others, and where the community could rate "buddies" according to how helpful they were.

Now there's a novel idea!


  1. John, Pfizer and others might come up with the types of novel ideas you touch on here if (1) they had behavioral change experts designing and running such programs with a stake in the outcomes (profesional repuation and opportunties to publish the results), (2) did not rely on their agency's 'friends' for expert consultation who then disappear before the first Rx is filled, and (3) believed and acted as though they were in the health behavior change business and not just the drug business - they might also have gotten a better handle on adherence issues by now too.

  2. Anonymous6:48 AM

    Pharma regulations probibit this sort of thing in most parts of the world.

  3. Anonymous12:13 PM

    Agreed. I'm a strategist at an ad agency that does quite a bit of pharma marketing. We would LOVE to get into the social networking game with one of our pharma products but medical/legal regulatory restrictions prohibit it.

    The reasons? Primarily adverse event reporting but also the fear of inciting a negative dialogue about a product.

    Given the fact that the FDA is cracking down on DTC marketing in general, I cannot imagine a scenario in which social networking would be given the green light on a pharma site.

  4. Pharmaceutical companies can easily sponsor a third-party to run such a site with clear and prominent sponsorship messages. You know, like CME for patients!

    Of course, the questions will arise as to whether or not this should be driven by marketing or outside of marketing. While there are professional relations departments in most pharma companies to take cahrge of traditional CME, there are few, if any, consumer relations departments with independent budgets.

  5. Having seen the mytimetoquit ads during Super Tuesday coverage last night, and the news that the FDA issued a public health advisory for Pfizer's Chantix, I went to the site and then took a look around blogs to see what people were saying. Take a look at this one
    Many of the comments are from folks with their own Chantix blogs that look and read as strangely professional to me...


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