Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jarvik: A Modern DTC Tragedy

"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!"
-- Walter Scott

As everyone knows by now, Pfizer caved in to withering criticism from Congress and the Pharma BlogospereTM and pulled the Jarvik Lipitor ads.

When Dr. Robert Jarvik inked his $1.35 million Lipitor spokesperson deal with Pfizer, I am sure he was not prepared for the damage to his reputation that would result.

Given all the negative publicity surrounding Jarvik and the ads, it was time for Pfizer to retire the good doctor (72% of respondents to a Pharmalot poll agree that Pfizer should fire Jarvik).

But perhaps Jarvik himself begged Pfizer to cut him loose from his $1.35 million contract. With every piece of bad news, Jarvik's reputation was melting away. He may have felt he needed to get off the airways and fast!

From the very beginning I thought Jarvik was a “fop” (see “Lipitor's Jarvik: Fop or Flop?”). I criticized the color scheme chosen for his clothes, which was Nexium purple rather than Lipitor blue. That may have been a branding faux pas or perhaps something the prissy doctor demanded. My point of view as a pharmaceutical marketing critic was this was the wrong image to project of a cardiologist. “Inventor of an artificial heart or not, what guy wants to be examined by a doctor who looks like this!,” I said. “Maybe it's an OK look for an OB/Gyn, but not a cardiologist--which, next to a brain surgeon, is the most manly medical specialty.”

Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that Jarvik was NOT a cardiologist.

Anyway, many of my blog readers agreed with my assessment of Jarvik’s sexual orientation. The infamous Anonymous had this to say: “It wasn't the dress that convinced me Jarvik was Gay. It was his style of voice. Let's face it, the guy is weak and flaming. (Might be something wrong with that). I'm surprised he has the guts to come out on public TV and expose himself. Gutsy perhaps.”

Gutsy, yes. Smart; not so much.

Then, I learned about the “long-simmering dispute over assigning credit for the artificial heart.” One commenter to my October 2006 “fop” post said “I am offended by Dr. Robert Jarvik's claim to be the inventor of the artificial heart. It appears he's stretching the facts, perhaps due to what you alleged might be vanity.” I learned that Paul Winchell, the renowned ventriloquist, invented a version of the artificial heart BEFORE Jarvik did. In fact, there was innuendo that Winchell was hoodwinked into signing over his patent to the University of Utah where Jarvik was employed.

Recently, even Jarvik’s former colleagues have come out publicly to question whether his contribution to medical science was all that great. A February 26, 2008 New York Times article reported that three former colleagues of Dr. Jarvik’s at the University of Utah complained to Pfizer that the Lipitor ads erroneously identified Dr. Jarvik as “inventor of the artificial heart.” That distinction, they said, should go to Dr. Jarvik’s mentor, Dr. Willem J. Kolff, and his associate, Dr. Tetsuzo Akutsu. Pfizer subsequently changed its ads to identify Dr. Jarvik as the inventor of the “Jarvik artificial heart.”

The NY Times also reported that "Another former Utah colleague of Dr. Jarvik's, Dr. Clifford S. Kwan-Gett, stated that the Jarvik series of hearts were simply different versions of prototypes that Dr. Kwan-Gett had made more than a year earlier."

Worse was yet to come. Not only was Jarvik "outed" as gay, but we learned that he did not have a license to practice medicine! (See "Jarvik -- Lipitor spokesperson – 'outed' as an unlicensed physician!"). Even veteran DTC experts like Bob Ehrlich, publisher of DTC Perspectives, believed that Jarvik was a practicing cardiologist. Although Bob did not think that was a big deal, House Energy and Commerce Committee obviously did--it raised questions about Dr. Jarvik’s credentials to recommend Lipitor.

Then came the Good Morning America interview that sealed Jarvik’s fate (see "Jarvik Falters in His Own Defense"). When he was asked why the Lipitor ads did not mention generics, he took a long embarrassed pause and said "I don't know. We have talked about generics in the ads...” “You have?” exclaimed an incredulous Diane Sawyer. "Well maybe there's an ad that hasn't come out yet that you haven't seen. (smirk). So, we do address those issues."

I put the blame squarely on Pfizer for allowing their renowned spokesperson to be interviewed on national TV obviously without the proper coaching.

After that debacle, it was clear that Pfizer could not allow Jarvik to testify before Congress, which was--and maybe still is--itching to have him as a witness. He simply had to go and Pfizer came out with a mea culpa (see press release).
"The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions..." said Ian Read, Pfizer’s president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations. "We regret this," he added.
Not only did the ads mislead viewers to believe that Jarvik was a practicing cardiologist, they also falsely depicted Jarvik as an expert rower! "He can't row," said Dr. O. H. Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute of Dr. Jarvik. And Dr. Frazier should know—he's a "longtime collaborator" of Jarvik's! As reported in the NY Times, the Energy and Commerce Committee also “asked 10 advertising agencies that worked on the Dr. Jarvik campaign to submit documents about the use of body doubles.”

In his defense, Jarvik said: “I spent most of my summer vacation time during high school on the water, sailing, rowing, fishing, and scuba diving. At the time the ad was filmed, I was certainly fit enough to row for the shoot.” (See WSJ Health Blog). And I spent my high school summer vacations gassing cars at the local Gulf station, so I must qualify as a Nascar driver!
[Full disclosure: I was never really a gas jockey. If that statement led to “misimpressions and distractions,” I deeply regret it.]
Finally, we learned that Jarvik didn't start taking Lipitor until after he was hired by Pfizer.

It’s one thing to make snarky remarks about Jarvik’s gay mannerisms, but let’s not forget that the fire behind all this smoke is how Pfizer and the Kaplan Thaler Group, its ad agency, mismanaged the whole Jarvik-Lipitor campaign and the press.

I suspect that Kaplan Thaler Group’s creativity and hubris is partly responsible for destroying Jarvik’s credibility. Ultimately, however, it was Pfizer that allowed Jarvik to fend for himself in defense of his credibility on national TV! Who knows? Maybe Pfizer advised Jarvik not to appear on the Good Morning Show and when he ignored the advice Pfizer simply disowned any responsibility.

Whatever! All I can say is that it may be a long time before any other celebrity will work with these dodos! Unless, of course, Pfizer raises the ante and offers $2 million to the next rope-a-dope celeb!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SNL Knows How to Spoof DTC Ads!

There are plenty of parodies of broadcast direct to consumer (DTC) ads on YouTube and Web sites critical of the drug industry (see, for example, "Making Fun of Pharma Marketing is Easy"), but the late night comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL) has the talent and money to do it right!

Just like the guys over at the WSJ Health Blog, where I first learned of the SNL spoof, I've curtailed my late-night TV viewing habits and did not catch the live show.

The SNL ad for Annuale (shown here) should be compared to the ad that it spoofs, which you can find here on the Seasonale Web site.

Contrary to other spoofs that try to teach us something about DTC advertising, SNL's Annuale ad is just damn funny!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pfizer Flips. Jarvik Flops!

It's official! Jarvik is off the air as the Lipitor spokesperson!

"... the way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world -- cardiovascular disease," said Pfizer’s President of Worldwide Pharmaceutical Operations Ian Read. "We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople."

See Pfizer's press release here.

See previous Pharma Marketing Blog posts on Jarvik (in reverse chronological order):

User Fees for DTC Ad Review All Over Again

In another attempt to allow the drug industry to pay the FDA to review broadcast TV DTC ads, the Bush administration is attempting to resurrect user fees.

"The proposed 2009 budget [Bush] sent to Congress this month calls for $14 million from fees to fund 27 FDA positions devoted to the consumer-ad-review program. In exchange, the FDA would review TV drug ads within 45 days of getting them from drugmakers — which is faster than many reviews occur now — and before the ads are seen by millions of viewers." (See USA Today article here.)

In case you are trying to keep up with the on again/off again DTC user fee issue, check out these previous Pharma Marketing Blog posts (in reverse chronological order):

Friday, February 22, 2008

World Without Broadcast DTC Would be a Boon to eMarketing!

This morning, I was greeted by email from Bob Ehrlich, chairman of DTC Perspectives, who made some predictions about what would happen to broadcast DTC if McCain or Obama were elected president.
"Do I really think mass media is going to end?," asks Ehrlich. "I would say it is 70% likely it will stay pretty much as is for the next few years. If Obama wins, he may succeed in his goal of greatly expanding medical coverage by the end of his first term. If that happens then I would place the odds of greater restrictive change at 50% or higher."
Who's president of the US may ultimately have little influence on the end of "Mass Media," which is losing ground every day to alternative media -- the pharma industry just doesn't realize this. Pharma marketers are much too short-sighted to focus on massive social shifts going on around them. They are much more focused on short-term political winds shifting.

But the next president and the next Congress could bring an end to broadcast DTC advertising, which I pointed out in this blog on February 19 when I suggested that pharma brand managers should play a what-if-no-TV-DTC-scenario game (see "Helping Pharma eMarketing 'Grow Up'"):
"Invite your product/brand manager audience to play a little game called 'World Without TV DTC.'

Imagine if you will a world where DTC advertising on TV was not permitted until 3 years AFTER a drug is launched. It's not so hard -- especially when the political winds are shifting as they are today.


Without TV, what's your NEXT BEST strategy to reach a massive amount of people economically?"
The point of the exercise was to make pharma marketers realize that eMarketing was the next best alternative in a world without broadcast TV. And if that is true, then they should be paying more attention to eMarketing NOW!

Pharma Would Rather Fight Than Switch!
But don't hold your breath! The pharmaceutical industry will circle its wagons and do everything possible to prevent McCain or Obama from messing with TV DTC. They may even hire new lobbyists -- perhaps McCain's lobbyist "friend" Vicki Iseman (pictured above) will make herself available. Maybe she already has PhRMA as a client!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pharma Marketing People in the News

I'm a people person -- I really am!

I started my newsletter (Pharma Marketing News) to support an online community of professionals that communicated via an email listserv that I founded in 1997!

listserv! So 1997!

After ten years of care and feeding, in January 2007, I disbanded the listserv and set up a Web-based discussion board -- the Forums at Pharma Marketing Network (see "An Online Community to Call Our Own").

Anyway, getting back to people. It's always nice to read about people who are changing jobs or being promoted. I get a charge when I read about someone I know, but haven't talked to or seen in a while. "I should call or email that person and re-establish contact," I say.

This is why a few bloggers such as Ed Silverman over at Pharmalot occasionally write posts -- "Up And Down The Ladder... Job Changes" -- about people who change jobs. You also see this kind of thing in the back sections of trade publications.

I often get press releases announcing promotions, new hires, etc. from companies that hope I will publish them in my newsletter. But despite being a people person, I just don't have the resources to do this. Besides, such notices offer limited means to establish contact.

This is where the Web 2.0 tools available at Pharma Marketing Forums with its support for user-generated content (UGC) and profiling come in handy. The Forums site includes the forum Pharma Marketing People in the News, which is specifically intended for announcements about promotions, new hires, etc.

User-Generated People on the Move
For all you Media Relations Managers out there who want to get the word out about someone in your company that your just hired or who has been promoted, I make this offer:

Publish the notice it yourself in the Pharma Marketing People in the News Forum! You can include photos and even attach PDF files.

This gives your announcement extraordinary visibility in search engines. And it doesn't cost you anything!

Try it yourself: search Google on "pharma people in the news" and you will find the Pharma Marketing People in the News Forum listed as #5 in the natural search results; or try "pharma marketing people in the news" and you will see that it is #9 (it gets pushed down because other Pharma Marketing Network sites occupy positions #1, #3, #6, and #7!) Sorry, Pharmalot is not listed on the first page of Google results!

Before posting your announcement, you should register and make sure to update your User Profile so that people know who you are and how to contact you. Of course, be sure to include your contact information in your posts.

What I suggest is that you start start a New Thread -- it could just be a one-time announcement or you can start a thread for all such announcements and name it "[COMPANY NAME] People on the Move" (substitute your company's name for [COMPANY NAME]). Then, whenever you have another announcement, just post a reply to the original thread!

Utilize Social Networking Tools
Go one step beyond announcing news about people -- encourage these people to register at the Forums site and set up a profile so that you can provide a link to that profile in your announcement. Here's what your people can put in their profiles:
  • A list of interests
  • Occupation
  • Birth Date (can be invisible to others but will be used to send birthday greetings by email)
  • Expanded bio
  • Photo - can be included with every post the person makes
  • Avatar image - user's representation of himself or herself (use your imagination!)
  • Set up how you want to communicate with others
  • And much more...
In this day and age of Web 2.0 self-publishing, I give you the tools and hope that you use them. All I ask is that you stick to publishing information about people in your company and not promote products or services -- I have other options for that (learn more about those options here).

Pharma's New Marketing Partner: Medical Journals

Medical journals may soon become the pharmaceutical industry's newest physician marketing partner. Last week -- actually on Friday, February 15, just before the three-day holiday weekend when no-one was around -- the FDA published its draft guidance on "Good Reprint Practices for the Distribution of Medical Journal Articles ... on Unapproved New Uses of Approved Drugs..." (you can read the whole thing here, but I will summarize it below).

The new rules FDA proposes would allow drug and device makers to provide doctors with copies of medical journal articles that discuss product uses that have not been vetted or approved by the F.D.A. The rules also say that drug companies do not have to promise to adequately test the unapproved use discussed in the article.

Under the proposed rule, the agency would let drug and device companies pass out articles to doctors if the articles were peer-reviewed and came from a journal with an expert editorial board. The article must be accompanied by a prominent warning that the use described is not approved or cleared by the F.D.A.

The agency abandoned the requirement that drug and device makers must provide the studies to the F.D.A. beforehand or promise to seek approval of the discussed use.

This, according to many critics like Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (and Clemens basher), "would carve a large loophole in the law and create a pathway by which drug and device manufacturers can promote unapproved (off-label) uses of their products without first obtaining FDA approval..." (see his letter to FDA commish Dr. von Eschenbach here).

Under the old law -- which expired in 2006 -- drug companies could distribute journal articles discussing off-label uses of drugs only if they promised that they intended to do controlled studies on the off-label use and submit an application to the FDA for approval for that use.

Critics worry that without this promise, drug companies have no incentive to seek such approval for new uses of their drugs and they will just promote off-label by showering docs with reprints.

It would be totally feasible under the proposed new guidelines for drug companies to sponsor small "investigator-initiated" trials on off-label uses and get these studies published in peer-reviewed journals so that they can distribute the reprints to physicians. Often such studies are in small populations and do not meet the rigorous requirements FDA has for approving drugs for new uses.

There are other issues raised by FDA's proposal that I'd like to explore further. Through this post and an associated online SURVEY I hope to get your opinions and then follow-up with a more in-depth article for publication in Pharma Marketing News.

The SURVEY I put together asks how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements:
  1. Under NO circumstances should drug companies be permitted to hand out off-label information -- including peer-reviewed journal articles -- to physicians and other health care professionals.
  2. What I think: There clearly are circumstances where I think drug companies should be able to do this such as in peer-to-peer, physician-to-physician discussions; ie, using Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs; see "Give Docs What They Want"). Drug companies have been doing this for years. Why not set up a secure online network for physicians to supply reprints in electronic format? I have a problem with sales reps handing out off-label information to docs -- clearly they are positioned to promote the benefits of their products and may be tempted to use the off-label reprints as part of their promotional sales pitch -- in fact, they would be dumb NOT to do that! Overall, I would have to say that I disagree somewhat with this statement. What do you think? Answer here.
  3. As in the old rule, a drug company should be permitted to hand out such information IF the information is first reviewed by the FDA and the company declares that it intends to submit an application for FDA approval of the off-label use (ie, perform clinical trials).
  4. What I think: I don't see the logic of this. First of all, the FDA cannot possibly track this. It's similar to the situation in which drug companies make promises about doing post-marketing surveillance trials in return for faster approval. About 65% of the time it just never happens and the FDA is virtually powerless to do anything about it (see "Spinning Bad News about FDA & Drug Safety"). So I would have to say that I strongly disagree with this statement. What do you think? Answer here.
  5. FDA is forced to relax the rules because not to do so is an infringement of commercial free-speech rights.
  6. What I think: Bingo! FDA doesn't think it can win in court or, at least, it has had a change of heart on this issue after Dr. von Eschenbach took over. A legal gray has been cast over limitations FDA previously placed on distribution of reprints by pharma companies. Clearly, FDA's new guidance is based on a court decision regarding a first-amendment case brought by the Washington Legal Foundation (see "WLF Decision and Its Implications"). So I would have to say that I strongly agree with this statement. What do you think? Answer here.
  7. The new rule will stop pharmaceutical companies from underwriting expensive trials to confirm new drug uses.
  8. What I think: Waxman said in his letter to von Eschenbach, "the draft guidance may create a disincentive for drug and device manufacturers to seek approval for unapproved uses." This argument would have more merit if sales of drugs depended solely upon promotion to physicians. Pharma companies also want to promote new uses for their products to consumers. They could do this -- and DO do this -- via PR, which gets stories in the press about unapproved uses of drugs, but it's much more efficient and effective to use DTC advertising, which in no way allows for the promotion of off-label uses. Still, it is estimated that 21% of prescriptions are for off-label use and that is a big source of income for the industry. Anything that would increase off-label use would be a windfall. Overall, I would have to say that I disagree somewhat with this statement. What do you think? Answer here.
  9. Because the FDA is so slow in assessing drug and device benefits, it is imperative that drug companies be able to hand out medical journal articles so that doctors can learn immediately about life-saving uses.
  10. What I think: I forget who used this argument -- it could have been Ken Johnson over at PhRMA. If doctors want to learn immediately about life-saving uses of drugs, they should subscribe to and read the medical literature and take their continuing medical education more seriously. Also, pharma companies have other ways to get this information to docs -- ie, by sponsoring continuing medical education! So, I would have to say that I strongly disagree with this statement. What do you think? Answer here.
  11. Doctors have many other sources of information about off-label use of drugs -- the Internet and their own journal subscriptions, for example -- and do not require that pharmaceutical companies provide this information to them.
  12. What I think: This is a corollary of the previous statement or maybe even redundant -- but what the heck, let's treat it as a separate issue. As I have said before, physicians can easily learn about new drugs and off-label uses of old drugs from a myriad of sources -- especially the Internet (see "The Professor's Straw Man Free Lunch for Physicians Argument"). Maybe they prefer the nice, glossy reprints given to them by sales reps as gifts. Anyway, I would have to say that I strongly agree with this statement. What do you think? Answer here.
  13. Since the FDA admitted that it did not really enforce the old requirements, it is also not likely to enforce the NEW requirements (ie, use of peer-reviewed articles only, warning label on articles). Consequently, this gives the drug industry virtual free reign to do off-label promotion.
  14. What I think: According to a NY Times article, "An F.D.A. official said the agency did not really enforce those [old] requirements anyway." Logically, if that is true, then it is also true that the FDA would not enforce the new requirements, which would open up a lot of possibilities for the drug industry to abuse the privilege -- especially, as I noted above, if sales reps are in charge of handing out reprints. So, I would have to say that I agree somewhat with this statement. What do you think? Answer here.
You can access the Survey Here and give me your opinions on the above statements. You can remain anonymous or you can include your name and contact information if you would like to be quoted in my follow-up article. Thanks in advance for your input!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

FTC, Generics, and the War in Iraq

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is trying to "crackdown" on Big Pharma payments to generic manufacturers that agree not to bring lower-cost generic versions of brand name drugs to market (see "Crackdown by FTC on Big Pharma").

As reported in the above cited article, "last week the Federal Trade Commission launched a high-profile battle against Cephalon (CEPH), the maker of the blockbuster narcolepsy medication Provigil, over a $200 million payout it gave to four generic companies in exchange for an agreement not to develop a competing medication. In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., the FTC claims that the deal violates antitrust law."

This is interesting because I recall attending an industry conference in Boston in late 2001 during which a Cephalon representative from the Provigil team described an exciting new market for the drug -- shift work sleep disorder, which is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder affecting people who change their work or sleep schedules frequently or work longterm on other than the day shift.

At that time, Provigil was approved only for narcolepsy, which affects a relatively small population of people -- the National Institute of Neurological Disorders estimates that narcolepsy "affect(s) about one in every 2,000 Americans" or about 150,000 total. A new indication was clearly needed to get respectable sales.

Still, are there enough sleep-deprived shift workers to support Cephalon's blockbuster goals for Provigil? Note: 2006 sales of Provigil represented 44 percent of Cephalon's $1.7 billion in 2006 revenues. That's $760 million in annual Provigil sales.

A 2005 NEJM editorial claimed "As many as 20 percent of workers in industrialized nations are shift ... Shift-work sleep disorder, defined as a primary complaint of insomnia or excessive sleepiness temporally associated with a work period that occurs during the habitual sleep phase, has been diagnosed in as many as 10 percent of shift workers."

If you do the math, you get about 2 million US shift workers who may suffer from shift-work sleep disorder.

It turns out that Cephalon wasn't interested so much in Fedex workers who sort overnight parcels in the Atlanta hub. Cephalon needed a large group of patients that would repeatedly use the drug over a long period of time if it wanted to generate significant sales. That group was the US military, which promised to be a very lucrative market for Provigil. This was the market that the Cephalon representative was ecstatic about at the Boston conference.

In 2002, Cephalon filed for the new indication and the FDA approved it in 2004, a few months after the invasion of Irag -- and after "mission accomplished."

But the military was using the drug on an "experimental" basis a lot earlier than the invasion of Iraq.

"U.S. soldiers are staying awake for days and nights on end in Iraq, and many are almost certainly benefiting from military research into pills that let them work for 40 hours straight, without feeling "wired" and without crashing afterward." (See "New drug may help soldiers stay awake. Doctors unsure of long-term effect.")

The FTC says there have been 100 deals like the Cephalon one since 2004. So why only go after Cephalon? Could it be that the FTC is trying to save the military some money by making it easier for the 4 generic manufacturers to get into the game?

If so, this may be a case where ordinary US citizens enjoy the spoils of war: the Cephalon case may go all the way to the Supreme court where FTC hopes the Court will issue a precedent-setting decision in its favor. "We're trying to reverse the course of the law and get another circuit to find these deals illegal in the hopes that the Supreme Court will resolve [the issue] once and for all," said an FTC staff member.

That would mean the end to Big Pharma deals with generic manufacturers to keep generics off the market.

Who said the war in Iraq does not benefit Americans?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Helping Pharma eMarketing "Grow Up"

We survivors of the dotcom boom and bust era who still believe in the Internet as the greatest communications medium ever invented, have long lamented the fact that pharmaceutical marketers -- whose job IS communications -- have largely ignored the Internet.

In terms of measured media spending -- which is what Nielsen measures -- pharma spending on Internet advertising represents only 1% of the total ad spend (see pie chart below and refer to details in "Lunesta's Ad Spending Spree and Other DTC Oddities"). Even if you were to add in search advertising, the pharma Internet sliver of the ad spend pie would hardly increase.

Yesterday, I met with a nice young executive who described himself as an "Integrated Marketing Specialist," which these days is a coded message that says "I do online marketing, but I cannot say that directly because pharma people will roll their eyes. Therefore I use 'integrated' so that they feel more relaxed."

Anyway, this executive related a story about the pushback he has often received from pharma brand managers who have sat in on guest lectures he does at a local university. You've probably experienced the same kind of pushback; namely, "how do I know it works?" or something like that.

This is really a dare to engage in an argument that you often cannot win. Sometimes, you just don't have the data to "prove" that online marketing/advertising works. But you can get the data from sources such as ComScore, a company that develops and publishes consumer e-marketing effectiveness benchmarks for the pharmaceutical industry in association with Evolution Road.

Utilizing panelist behavioral and survey data from current and prospective patients, ComScore's benchmarks provide pharmaceutical marketers with a better understanding of which e-marketing initiatives – whether online banner ads, search marketing or branded and unbranded websites – have the biggest impact on brand awareness, brand favorability, incremental new patient starts and incremental current patient adherence/next fill.

I will be having a live podcast conversation about ComScore's benchmarks and methodology this coming Thursday at 1:00 PM Eastern time. Click here for more information and where to go to listen live and participate in a simultaneous online chat.
[Full disclosure: I am not currently doing any paid promotional work for ComScore.]
So, the data is out there. But even with the data that proves that the ROI of online marketing is very good and maybe even better than print or TV, you will not convince brand managers to change their habits and wean themselves from TV. They just won't listen, their eyes glaze over, "When will this presentation be over so I can get a doughnut and sit behind the camera while my agency shoots the next TV ad?" they're thinking.

IMHO, brand managers' entrenched reliance on TV-based DTC advertising is the biggest obstacle to overcome if eMarketers want a bigger slice of the pharma promotional pie. And there-in lies a way to bypass the "ROI" death trap.

If you are ever in a situation similar to that of the Integrated Marketing Specialist I mentioned above, here's what I recommend you do: Invite your product/brand manager audience to play a little game called "World Without TV DTC."

Imagine if you will a world where DTC advertising on TV was not permitted until 3 years AFTER a drug is launched. It's not so hard -- especially when the political winds are shifting as they are today.


Without TV, what's your NEXT BEST strategy to reach a massive amount of people economically?

I would guess that 80% of brand managers would say the next best strategy is the Internet and not print. Why? Because you can still do creative video via the Internet. Or, to put it another way, ad agencies can still do what they like to do and get paid well for doing it.

In other words, while the Internet in today's TV-dominated world is a DISTANT #2 or #3; but in a world without DTC on TV, the Internet suddenly would be #1.

Now you know why I am so critical of TV DTC ads! It's my way of helping Pharma eMarketing Grow Up! ComScore and Verispan have their ways and I have mine.

Now, only if Edwards would endorse Obama and help him write his anti-pharma platform, us eMarketers would surely reap a windfall profit!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pharma R&D Succumbs to the Dark Side

I once said "God bless the dedicated researchers and scientists of the pharmaceutical industry! They are truly the unsung heroes of the pharmaceutical industry! Too bad they are sequestered in their labs!" and "If God blesses the folks in pharma R&D, the devil may take pharmaceutical marketers -- unless they reform!"(see "God Bless R&D, but Marketers May Go to Hell!").

I even came up with a nice visual image of this sentiment:

Of course, I held little hope that Pharma Marketing would reform, but I didn't think that R&D would make a pact with the devil! The more I learn about about Merck's and Schering-Plough's failed ENHANCE study (see, for example, "How high hopes ultimately hurt Vytorin study"), the more I think a deal indeed was made.

Perhaps the following image is better suited to reality these days within pharma companies:

That is, R&D is succumbing to the demands of the commercial side of pharma. It's not quite under the thumb of the dark side, but it's tainted, which is one conclusion I came to after reading the EHNANCE story.

According to the NJ Star-Ledger article cited above, "Interviews with 10 of the leading research scientists and clinical trial experts, as well as the companies, suggest the study was ill-conceived and poorly managed -- all in the name of seeking scientific proof Vytorin was more effective than its rivals."

Not only that, "In a break from standard clinical trial procedure, Merck and Schering-Plough oversaw the trial instead of a panel of outside scientists. There also was no safety monitoring board to oversee the health of clinical trial volunteers, which is typically appointed in studies involving new drugs."

And, "The most troubling shortcoming, the experts said, came when Schering-Plough's statisticians reviewed some raw study data in April 2006 before the examinations of all 750 volunteer test subjects at 11 sites around the globe were complete."

It was also said that the study was poorly designed: "The people selected for the study did not have abnormal amounts of plaque in their arteries to begin with, setting a high hurdle for Vytorin to reduce it."

I've got to believe that the scientists setting up these studies are smart people and do not develop clinical trial designs with "high hurdles." I think they designed the study to satisfy the main marketing message that the Vytorin marketers wanted to send: that Vytorin slows the progression of the buildup of plaque in people prone to this build up. If Vytorin could claim that, then it would be more competitive with Lipitor and Crestor. It's easier to detect a slight increase in the control group if the base level is normal rather than high.

[Tell me if this analogy is good: it's easier to distinguish a light gray tone from white than it is to distinguish two slightly different tones of gray.]

"Kastelein [the a cardiologist in Amsterdam who proposed the study] and three Schering-Plough scientists who helped design the study are no longer with the company."

Call in the R&D hit men and then eliminate them. If that's not dark, then I don't know what is!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pens Put Brands in Docs' Brains and Profit in Pharma's Pockets

Those pens that pharmaceutical sales reps hand out to physicians are often cited as examples of gifts to physicians that are meant to increase physician loyalty to the drug brand that made the gift.

Defenders of free gifts to physicians bristle at the notion that such gifts could influence the prescribing habits of physicians. Nevertheless, there is a big industry that caters to the needs of gift giving pharma companies as illustrated in this full-page ad that appeared in the February 2008 issue of Pharmaceutical Executive (PE) Magazine:

Obviously, Senator Pen, which produced and paid for this ad, must think
  1. pens can influence physicians and
  2. this ad will return a positive ROI.
The ad effectively ties together "Put(ting) your brand in their hands" and "Put(ting) your brand in their heads." If the ad imagery and tagline aren't enough, the ad copy is even more explicit: "These award-winning designs provide an elegant, yet useful way to keep your brand in their hands, and on their minds."

The graphic image of the doc holding the pen with the message "If you want your brand here. Start by putting it here." (I don't know why there's a period after the first "here;" it should have been an ellipsis ... or a comma. Poor copy editing.) That kind of puts to rest the notion that pens do not influence doctors, wouldn't you think?

The ad clearly conveys the notion that pens can influence physicians, but is it economical to place a full-page ad for pens in a major pharmaceutical trade publication? It all depends if the ad results in sales -- and only one sale would be required to return a pretty good return on investment (ROI) in my opinion.

Let's say it costs $5,000 to run a full-page ad in PE. I calculate that just one pharmaceutical company order of the new, award-winning "NewSpring" pen will more than cover the expense of this ad.

Here's my math:

A pharmaceutical company with 2,000 reps working a brand would order at least 150,000 pens -- about 75 pens per rep. If each pen cost $0.10 to the pharma company, that's a $15,000 order. I am sure the margin on these pens is very high, say 50%? Therefore, just one pharma order could bring in a profit of $7,500 and the ROI for this full-page ad would be at least 150%, which isn't bad -- about the same as the ROI for a decent DTC campaign.

It's much more difficult, however, to estimate the ROI on the pharma company's investment. If the pens were handed out to 50 docs per rep or 100,000 docs, then each doc would have to bring in a mere $0.15 worth of new scripts to cover the cost. Say, however, that only 2% or 2,000 docs that were given pens are subject to gift influence peddling -- the other 98% of docs threw their pens in the waste basket. These easily-influenced docs would have to write $2.00 more scripts for the drug than they normally would to make the pen project break even for the pharma company. That seems like a realistic scenario.

In other words, free pens like this pay off even if only 2% of docs that receive them are influenced to prescribe a tiny bit more of the drug brand emblazoned on the pen.

Now you know why the drug industry is unlikely to eliminate free gifts to docs -- gifts work and easily provide a positive ROI. Why else would any sane capitalist enterprise do it?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Depression comes from two sources: Real Life and Vytorin

The FDA has requested that Merck and Schering-Plough add "depression" to the side effects lists on the labels of Vytorin (and Zetia). See the story here.

Back when the ENHANCE trials news broke I asked "Should I Stop Taking Zetia?" Well, this new news just about closes the book on Zetia as far as I am concerned.

BTW, my cardiologist NEVER did return my call (see "My Cardiologist is on Vacation - 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'").

I cannot wait for Democrats to take over both the executive and legislative branches of government. Hopefully, there will be some new treatments for my two sources of depression, starting with an overhaul of the FDA!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Professor's Straw Man Free Lunch for Physicians Argument

According to a Wikipedia entry: "A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To 'set up a straw man' or 'set up a straw man argument' is to create a position that is easy to refute and attribute that position to the opponent. "

Defenders of drug industry marketing practices often use this technique to counteract opponents' arguments against certain pharma marketing practices.

Such is the case of Emory University Professor Paul H. Rubin's argument that "there's nothing wrong with letting drug reps schmooze with doctors," and specifically nothing wrong with sales reps providing free lunches to doctors (see his article in Forbes: "A Free Lunch").

Professor Rubin previously was Chief Advertising Economist at the Federal Trade Commission and Chief Economist at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and he currently "consult(s) for the drug industry from time to time, most recently for Pfizer."

The professor is in good company -- ie, the legion of former government officials once employed by regulatory agencies whose mission is to protect consumers who are now in "academia," PR agencies, or non-profit centers working full-time or part-time for the drug industry. The smart asses over at Drug Wonks are among this group.

They all employ the same kind of straw man rhetorical technique.

It's easy to win an argument that "free" lunches provided to physicians cannot possibly be harmful, whereas it is harder to refute the fact that expensive new drugs are often not the best option for improving outcomes.

Professor Rubin puts down a study regarding gifts to physicians by using the proof-by-lack-of-evidence-to-the-contrary card: "there was no evidence of harm to patients caused by doctors and drug reps breaking bread."

Of course there isn't! Most drugs do help patients rather than harm them -- even if they are prescribed to the wrong patients, drugs are not likely to hurt them in any "measurable" way. When was the last time you checked into a hospital because Lipitor caused leg cramps? Either you lived with it or you stopped taking the drug. There's no outcome that can be measured here -- except that you and your insurance company wasted money.

As a counter-argument, Rubin cites a study by another professor -- Frank Lichtenberg of Columbia University -- who receives funds from Merck and Pfizer and consults for Barr Laboratories (plus law firms and/or PR agencies that probably represent the drug industry). That study purports to proves that today's more expense drugs improve outcomes (at least as far as saving hospitalization costs are concerned.)

Professor Rubin claims that busy doctors do not have time to read medical journals and "a meal with a pharmaceutical salesperson is a time-efficient way for a busy doctor to learn about new drugs..."

As if doctors could not have quiet lunches by themselves in their offices in front of their computers and learn about new drugs from a myriad of sources -- including their colleagues on social networking sites like Sermo.

Rubin claims that because manufacturers of generics do not promote those drugs, "it might be difficult for the physician to learn about generics at all."

Thus, professor Rubin's position can be boiled down to this: without pharmaceutical marketing -- including free lunches -- doctors would be dumbasses and patients would suffer worse outcomes.

Rubin also says that "the life expectancy of Americans is at its highest level ever and will continue to increase." What he doesn't say, however, is that US life expectancy is lower than in many other countries where pharmaceutical marketing to consumers is not legal and where physicians prescribe drugs from strict one-payer formularies (see, for example, "Do New Drugs Prolong Lives?").

Rubin also does not mention that Heart Disease May Be Rising in U.S., Ending 30 Years of Decline. Perhaps all these new Rx drugs Americans are taking may be contributing to this rise? You might recall the results from Vioxx and Zetia clinical trials that showed increased CV problems.

The report I just cited states:
"Heart disease fell from 1981 to 1995, when it leveled off, and may have risen since 2000, said an article in today's issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine."
Of course, doctors don't have time to read this journal, so they'll have to depend on pharma sales reps to tell them all about this. Oh yeah! That'll happen!

It's interesting that direct to consumer advertising of drugs really became significant in the US at about the same time that heart disease leveled off and began to rise! Coincidence? You tell me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Are Marketers Artists or Mathematicians?

How many marketers does it take to calculate ROI?

None. There's a lot of talk about ROI, but no one's got the time, money or the inclination to do the math.

Sorry, just thought I'd open with a little joke as in a live presentation.

Speaking of live presentations, have you ever accepted an invitation to make a presentation on a subject with which you have very little personal experience or knowledge?

That is currently my predicament.

I am presenting a keynote speech at the Measuring Marketing ROI conference in London next month. The title of my presentation is "Why many pharmaceutical marketers ignore ROI and rely upon anecdotal evidence."

I've had plenty of time to prepare my presentation, but I have done practically nothing so far to put my slide deck together. I'm beginning to feel the pressure building and I need help.

Of course, although I have practically no experience measuring marketing ROI, that doesn't stop me from having an opinion based on conferences I've attended and watching marketers ignore ROI. In fact, I've commented on this issue in at least several posts to this blog. See, for example, "Do Pharma Marketers Need a Thick Skin or Will a Thick Skull Suffice?" and "Rozerem Ad Spending Exceeds Sales!"

But that is the limit of my knowledge. So, I would really appreciate your insights on this topic, which I also hope to write up in an article for the Feb issue of Pharma Marketing News.

Here's my keynote outline:

Why many pharmaceutical marketers ignore ROI and rely upon anecdotal evidence
  • Are marketers artists or mathematicians? [It's obvious (or maybe not): Marketers are not daVinci's -- they are not good at combining art and science.]
  • Right brain vs. left brain thinking
  • Creativity vs. accountability
  • There are very few awards given for the latter, but many for the former
  • Can six sigma be applied to marketing?
If you have any insights into these bullet points, please post them in the comments section of this post below.

If you are a member of the Pharma Marketing Roundtable Forum, you can participate in the discussion thread located here. (You have to be a member to access the forum. To join the Roundtable Forum, fill out the Roundtable Membership Request Form.)

If I use your pearls of wisdom in the article or presentation, I will be happy to give you credit if you identify yourself. Anonymous comments are also welcomed (don't worry, I won't tell Congress).

Full disclosure: I am working with the event organizers (ViB Events) to help them promote this meeting. I am not getting paid to be a speaker or even to promote the meeting, but they are paying for most of my travel expenses -- not including food other than that included during the conference.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Social Media to Congress: "Piss Off!"

I love a Congressional investigation as well as the next guy, especially when it involves purported wrong-doing by pharmaceutical company bigwigs.

The House Committee on Commerce investigation into "who knew what when" about the ENHANCE clinical trial is a case in point. Did bigwigs at Schering-Plough cash in stock options well ahead of the negative news?

As pointed out by whistleblower Peter Rost on BrandweekNRx, at least a few people inside SP knew that ENHANCE was a failure way back in March, 2007 -- about 10 months prior to the public announcement and a month or two before Schering bigwigs -- including president Carrie Cox -- sold stock (see "New evidence indicates Schering-Plough insiders knew the Vytorin trial was "a bust" on March 13, 2007").

These people inside SP were "anonymous" posters to CafePharma. On March 13, 2007, an anonymous CafePharma poster claimed that a "buddy" at "SPRI" -- an abbreviation for the research and development arm of Schering-Plough -- said that the ENHANCE study was a bust. "Adding Zetia to already maxed-out statin is useless," claimed this anonymous poster.

If this person knew, then so did Cox, seems to be the thinking of the Congressional Committee, which sent a letter to Sarah Palmer, CafePharma's Webmaster/mistress, and her ISP asking for the names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and Internet protocol addresses of anyone creating posts prior to January 18, 2008 regarding the ENHANCE clinical trial.

It also requested that CafePharma "not destroy, dispose of, or tamper with any files or records relating to Merck/Schering-Plough and the ENHANCE study."

CafePharma faces a dilemma: should it hand over information it has about "anonymous" posters to the House Committee on Commerce, which requested these names as part of its investigation of "who knew what when" in the ENHANCE investigation? Or should CafePharma tell the committee to "piss off!"?

At first it appears that handing over names, addresses, and e-mail addresses of "anonymous" posters is an oxymoronic endeavor -- anonymous means that kind of data simply is not available. Or does it?

Having had some experience with the dark side of CafePharma (see "Banned from CafePharma!"), I can say that it is amazing what technically-savvy people can learn about "anonymous" posters. CafePharma may know the IP addresses of such posters, which can be used to trace them back to their Internet service providers, which, in turn, will have names, e-mail addresses, and possibly other personal information. You might also be able to trace what web sites anonymous posters visited prior and after posting to CafePharma.

Regardless of what personal information CafePharma has about its posters, I hope it refuses to comply with the Committee's "request." I am not sure what legal rights CafePharma has to refuse to comply, but this request is a serious issue for CafePharma and other "social network" Web sites whose members depend upon the owners to protect their anonymity in the exercise of their free speech rights.

Of course, it isn't it enough for Congress to know that thanks to public postings on CafePharma it is likely that Cox and other SP employees knew of the ENHANCE trial problems well before the public announcement. What Congress wants is some kind of evidence that Cox et al actually did know and used that information to trade on. They want to know who the anonymous posters are so they can be called to testify and name names.

I am not telling CafePharma what to do, but I think anyone who owns a blog or social network that publishes "anonymous" comments should speak up against this request. It's one thing if the information was required for national security or if the postings were death threats, but it's quite another when we are talking about insider trading.

The Committee's request -- if left unchallenged -- could further frighten the pharmaceutical industry away from social media marketing. Already the industry is concerned about what users publish on social media sites -- especially if it contains off-label drug information or adverse events. The worriers don't also need to add Congressional investigations and privacy risks to the list of their concerns.

I propose that the Pharma BlogosphereTM community draft a letter to John Dingell, Chairman of the House Committee on Commerce, protesting the committee's request and defending the right of CafePharma to refuse to hand over private information about its members. Please join the discussion on the Pharma Marketing Network Forum I set up to get some input in creating this letter. Or send me an email:

P.S. Speaking of Social Media Marketing, have you taken the online Social Media Marketing Readiness Survey?

By filling out this questionnaire, you will discover where you may need to augment your knowledge about social media and the hurdles you may need to overcome within your organization to implement a social media marketing program.

When you complete the questionnaire, you’ll be able to see the average of all responses to date and get a better idea of how you and your company compare to that average.

You will also have the option of supplying your contact information if you would like a personalized evaluation of your responses. This evaluation adds up your score in three different categories: corporate culture, knowledge, and regulatory risk, to determine how aggressive your strategy could be.

Take the survey here and Rate Your Social Media Readiness!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Jarvik Can't Prescribe and Can't Row a Boat, But Can He Sell?

"He can't row," said Dr. O. H. Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute of Dr. Jarvik, Pfizer's Lipitor celebrity spokesperson. And Dr. Frazier should know -- he's a "longtime collaborator" of Jarvik's, according to a NY Times article.

The fact that Jarvik is not actually rowing in those old Lipitor commercials was pointed out by me back in August, 2006, when I was practically the only Pharma Blogger in the US. Here's what I wrote in the post "Confusing Creativity with Mission" back then:
... a body double rowing expert does the rowing in those Lipitor TV ads, not Dr. Jarvik (see "Lights ... Camera ... Attention ... Row!"). In the photo in that article -- taken by Jarvik's rowing stand-in during filming of the commercial -- Dr. Jarvik obviously is not far from shore in a rigged-up canoe.

I'm not surprised that a more experienced rower was used for the action shots -- but it seems a little disingenuous. I admired the skill of the rower, turning the blades of the oars just right for minimum drag between strokes. Because I thought Dr. Jarvik was the actual rower, I admired him all the more, which in turn made me more prone to trust his statements about Lipitor ("When diet and exercise aren't enough, adding Lipitor significantly lowers bad cholesterol. It's your heart. Ask if Lipitor is right for you."). Of course, the fact that he knew a thing or two about the human heart also impressed me!

On the other hand, in another Lipitor TV ad, that guy in the natty suit and purple tie is pure Jarvik! No body double.
Back in those days, reporters and Congressmen didn't even know what a blog was, let alone actually read one, and my post remained under the radar. Of course, not being able to row in and of itself isn't worthy of a Congressional investigation.

We now know that Jarvik can't prescribe Lipitor either (see "Jarvik -- Lipitor spokesperson -- 'outed' as an unlicensed physician!"), but he defends himself in a statement posted to his Jarvik Heart corporate Web site (see "Statement by Dr. Jarvik Regarding his Role as Lipitor Spokesman"):
"I have the training, experience, and medical knowledge to understand the conclusions of the extensive clinical trials that have been conducted to study the safety and effectiveness of Lipitor."
Along with a gazillion other "doctors"! What makes Jarvik so special then? It's the oft-quoted "fact" that Jarvik is the inventor of the "first" artificial heart. According to Robin Koval, president of Kaplan Thaler, the agency Pfizer hired to create the Jarvik ads, "We think Dr. Jarvik is an amazing spokesperson, [as the inventor of the artificial heart] he's beyond a celebrity spokesperson." But is he the inventor of the artificial heart?

Did Jarvik Invent the First Artificial Heart?
On his Web site, Jarvik not only defends himself as a qualified Lipitor spokesperson, but he also defends himself against claims by ventriloquist Paul Winchell (1922-2005) that he [Winchell] invented the first artificial heart. This claim was cited in a comment to my blog post in 2006 (see "Lipitor's Jarvik: Fop or Flop?").

"Certainly, he [Winchell] did not invent the first artificial heart," says Jarvik. "The Winchell device was not the prototype for the first permanent total artificial heart -- the Jarvik-7 heart," he says. "The mechanisms described in his [Winchell's] patent are crude and impractical," Jarvik says.

What Jarvik does not say -- but what he allows many news reporters to say -- is that he [Jarvik] invented the first artificial heart. The ABC News story cited above, for example, describes Jarvik as "the creator of the first artificial heart." But Jarvik admits he did not invent the first artificial heart by citing prior inventions to Winchell's and his own invention: "Internal artificial hearts were developed and implanted into experimental animals by Akutsu and Kolff at the Cleveland Clinic, beginning in 1957," says Jarvik, "although their early work was published and not patented, which was customary for inventors from academia."

But Can He Sell?
When the Jarvik Lipitor ads first came out, I asked if Jarvik was "Fop or Flop?" (here). I knew from the way he dressed, talked and walked that he was a "fop" and I thought viewers would not respond to a "cardiologist" who looked, dressed and acted like Jarvik. Of course, back then I didn't realize that Jarvik was not a cardiologist in the first place!

According to the NY Times article, "His recent invention, the Jarvik 2000 FlowMaker, [which I assume was "invented" seven years ago in 2000] is a pump the size of a C flashlight battery that is implanted directly into an intact human heart. It has been used experimentally on nearly six dozen patients at the Texas Heart Institute. The Food and Drug Administration has authorized those experiments, although Dr. Jarvik has yet to receive F.D.A. approval to sell the Jarvik 2000 for widespread use."

So he's having a hard time launching his newest invention for sale.

But can he sell Lipitor?

It's difficult to know if Jarvik helped Pfizer sell more Lipitor in the past. Jarvik was "guaranteed" $1.35 million for appearing in the advertisements ("considered a lot by most people," said Jarvik).

I have to assume Pfizer thought it was worth it, although $1.35 million is a pittance compared to the hundreds of millions Pfizer spends on Lipitor DTC advertising and the $12.7 billion in Lipitor sales last year.

But can he sell Lipitor NOW?

Is the Jarvik era of DTC over? Jarvik was the first "real" doctor to appear in DTC ads. Maybe that wasn't such a good idea and it is unlikely that any other real doctor will now have the cojones to follow in Jarvik's (foppy) footsteps -- no pharma marketer would even suggest such a scenario these days!

Given all the negative publicity surrounding Jarvik as a Lipitor spokesperson, it may be time for Pfizer to retire the good doctor (72% of respondents to a Pharmalot poll agree that Pfizer should fire Jarvik).

In my personal opinion, it's time for Pfizer to dump the Jarvik commercials and move on. But, given the "circle the wagons" mentality of pharmaceutical companies, I don't expect this to happen any time soon.

On the other hand, Jarvik may consider it wise to negotiate his way out of the Pfizer/Lipitor contract as it may now be a liability for him in his effort to get more investors and launch his latest invention.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Making Fun of Pharma Marketing is Easy

I've just returned from a few days vacation on the beach in Sunny Isles, Florida and I haven't yet recovered from the Motivational Deficiency Disorder (MDD) symptoms that resulted!

Haven't heard about MDD? You might want to take a look at the following video produced by the folks at Consumers International (CI) . The video explains what MDD is, how it's treated, and -- most importantly -- how one pharmaceutical company markets Strivor, its new MDD treatment:

I particularly like the part about 4 minutes into this video where the good doctor talks about clinical trial results on sloths.
"You've seen nothing," says the doctor who invented Strivor, "until you've seen a sloth that's motivated, I'll tell you!"
Ba Boom!

Ha, Ha, Ha.

The anti-pharma marketing shenanigans of CI have only recently caught the attention of blogs like the WSJ Health Blog (see "Striving for an Antidote to Drug Marketing") and Pharmalot (see "Do You Have Motivational Deficiency Disorder?").

This MDD spoof may be new to some bloggers, but I highlighted the first MDD video spoof back in January, 2007 (see my post "Disease Mongering and Pharma Credibility"). I thought this first video was quite well done. Some of the recent MDD videos produced by this group, however, merely remix scenes or recreate similar scenes. The latest iteration features a woman sufferer of MDD (click here to see that video).

Frankly, I do not see any women sufferers of MDD, which I believe mostly affects young men between the ages of 14 and 28. The messy surroundings depicted in the video look EXACTLY like my son's frat room!

The problem is, the majority of men suffering from MDD do not want to change and get up before 2-3 PM. Consequently, the MDD spoof was funny the first time I saw, but not so much now.

Consumers International looks like it's based in Australia where direct to consumer (DTC) advertising is not legal. Physician marketing and working with patient organizations, however, is legal and the video above spoofs pharma "marketing" practices disguised as education.

Producing video spoofs of pharmaceutical marketing practices is all the rage these days it seems. Here in the U.S., Consumer Union also produces such videos (see "Consumer Reports Rip Rozerem Ad -- A New One!", for example).

It turns out that there's a connection between CU and CI. According to the FAQs on the CI Web site:

What sort of organisations are Consumers International members and where are they located?
Consumers International's members include a wide range of different independent consumer organisations.

At one end of the scale is the Consumers Union in the US, which was founded almost 70 years ago and has more than 300 staff and 4.5 million individual consumers as its own members. At the other end are semi-voluntary associations providing information and advice and concentrating on education and community development to improve access to food, water and other basic services in some of the world's poorest countries.

Government Affiliates similarly run from major competition and fair trading agencies to recently established government departments in small countries addressing consumer issues for the first time.

About two-thirds of member organisations are in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Central/Eastern Europe and in countries of the former Soviet Union, the other third in Western Europe and North America.
I suppose these spoofs are supposed to be educational, but like the DTC ads they make fun of, I get more entertainment value than educational value from them. It's easy to make fun of pharma marketing practices, especially when your goal is to end these practices. That's where my spoofs making fun of pharma marketing differ from CI's spoofs -- my goal is better, more effective, and more educational pharmaceutical marketing. Just thought I'd point that out.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What's Your Social Media Readiness Score?

Sometimes, pharmaceutical marketers must feel like they are doomed if they do or if they don't engage in new media marketing such as "social media" (aka, Web 2.0) marketing.

If they do it, they may be doomed to fail miserably because of lack of knowledge or experience or because their effort is shot down internally by legal/regulatory before it ever gets off the ground.

But, if they don't, they may be doomed to fall behind their competitors who have overcome the challenges -- conservative internal regulatory environment, incompatible corporate culture, and lack of knowledge.

It's a lose-lose situation. Or is it?

Before you give up all hope and resign to be dragged down to social media marketing hell, you might want to take the short questionnaire I have developed that will rate your company's readiness to engage in social media marketing.

By filling out the Pharma Marketing News Rate Your Social Media Marketing Readiness online questionnaire, you will discover where you may need to augment your knowledge about social media and what internal regulatory and cultural hurdles you may need to overcome to implement a social media marketing program.

The questionnaire asks you to answer a few short questions:

Regulatory Environment (applicable only to companies regulated by the FDA)
  1. In your opinion, what is your company’s general regulatory climate?
  2. There are a number of legal and regulatory issues associated with a drug firm’s participation in or sponsorship of social media. How well do you and your colleagues understand these regulatory risks?
  3. How well do you think your company will be able to successfully address these compliance issues?
Corporate Culture
  1. What is your company’s tolerance for risk (e.g., initiating new or untested marketing tactics, launching bold corporate initiatives, etc.)?
  2. How does your company normally react to negative commentary from the media, physicians, politicians and other stakeholders?
  3. How uncomfortable would your company be advertising in a publication or on a web site that often contained editorial content critical of the pharmaceutical industry yet whose readers very closely matched your target audience?
Knowledge & Opinion of Social Media
  1. Rank your knowledge of social media in general – i.e., how familiar are your with various forms of social media and how they are used?
  2. Rank your knowledge of how social media are impacting the pharmaceutical industry’s customers and other stakeholders – i.e., patients, consumers, healthcare professionals, policy makers, etc.
  3. Have you ever personally used social media (i.e., read an online forum or posted a message to an online forum, submitted comments to a blog or written a blog post, edited a wiki, etc.)?
When you complete the questionnaire, you’ll be able to get your personal "social media marketing readiness" score and compare it to the average score of all responses to date.

Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of what obstacles you and your company need to overcome before you attempt a social media marketing campaign.

Access the questionnaire here.
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