Wednesday, July 15, 2009

When is it Acceptable for Pharma Marketers to Use Behavioral Targeting?

"The practice of advertising has clearly been revolutionized by the emergence of the Internet," said Nancy Hill, President & CEO, 4A's.

"Today, we can match the content of an ad to the interests of the consumer in ways undreamed of just a few short years ago' (see Industry Tightens Its Standards for Tracking Web Surfers).

One way of matching content of ads to the interests of the consumer is by using Behavioral Targeting (BT) techniques.

BT (aka interest-based advertising) uses information collected on an individual's web-browsing behavior, such as the pages they have visited or the searches they have made, to select which advertisements to display to that individual. Practitioners believe this helps them deliver their online advertisements to the users who are most likely to be interested.

To implement BT, users are tracked using invisible cookies stored on their computers. That is the only way that site D can know a visitor to the site previously visited sites A, B, and C. Site D can then use this information to serve the appropriate ads or other content based on previous visits.

"Ethical issues exist for technologies such as behavioral targeting," said R.J. Lewis, President and CEO e-Healthcare Solutions, Inc. (See "Behavioral Targeting: RJ vs JP".) "No one wants to be 'followed' around the Web with a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) ad, simply because they have previously visited a website with HIV-related content. However, health food or gym equipment can be promoted to those who have viewed fitness content or such benign disease categories as allergies or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Behavioral targeting creates a problem with regard to acceptable practices and defining what health care categories may be appropriate for employing behavioral-targeting technologies."

The FTC has an interest in behavioral targeting. It recently confirmed it will let marketers self-regulate behavioral-marketing privacy issues in cyberspace, rather than introduce government regulation. However, many consumer groups criticized the FTC's view that self-regulation of online targeted advertising was sufficient and the new FTC chairman, Jon Leibowitz, has stated: "Industry needs to do a better job of meaningful, rigorous self-regulation, or it will certainly invite legislation by Congress and a more regulatory approach by our commission," he said earlier this month.

When is it acceptable for pharma marketers to use behavioral targeting to deliver ads online?

I am doing some research regarding the appropriateness of using behavioral targeting techniques in pharmaceutical marketing and hope you will help by taking my Use of Behavioral Targeting by Pharma Marketers" survey.

SURVEY: Use of Behavioral Targeting by Pharma Marketers

Questions include:
  • Have you ever used behavioral targeting in an online advertising campaign?
  • Should the pharmaceutical industry adopt similar self-regulatory principles that were established by media and marketing trade associations to protect consumer privacy when employing behavioral targeting.
  • Should pharma marketers use behavioral targeting at all?
  • If they do use it, when is it appropriate?
Take the Survey
Please take 2 minutes to answer this survey relating to appropriate use of behavioral targeting techniques by pharmaceutical marketers. Take the survey here.

You will be able to see a summary of up-to-date de-identified results upon completion of the survey.

Results of this survey may be summarized in an issue of Pharma Marketing News.

Your comments are confidential (anonymous) unless you specifically provide your contact information at the end of the survey and allow us to attribute comments to you personally.

After completing the survey you will be able to see a summary of results (de-identified, excludes open-ended responses and comments that may identify the respondent).
Resources & Further Reading:


  1. Anonymous5:21 PM

    Common sense should also have its say. And there is alot more common sense coming out of talented and thoughtful marketers these days - you just need to find them, and that you can do by searching, watching who others watch, clicking on hylinks that take you to articles that are interesting, WOM etc. Surely (back to common sense) 1) It goes without saying that it is better to receive more targeted ads per se 2) Who looks at ads anyway apart from fleetingly, even less actually clicks on them 3) The volume of ads on a topic that your dog has reseached once, will diminish as you never search that category again. Much ado about nothing!

  2. I don't mind getting targeted ads. I would prefer that over unrelated junk. And as far as being followed, I can always delete all the cookies on my computer. No big deal.


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