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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BI Masters the Art of WOM through Its "Parrots," er, Spokespersons

Even Social Media Savvy, Personable, Fun-Loving Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) Can Bring Shame to the Pharmaceutical Industry!

No sooner did I give Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) kudos for its recent humorous and playful YouTube video (see here), than I learned it violated Clauses 2, 9.1, 3.2, 22.1 and 22.2 of the ABPI Code of Practice (see "Promotion of Pradaxa by Boehringer Ingelheim Breached ABPI Code of Practice").

You can read the details yourself in the above link. At the core of the case were stories published in UK newspapers based upon a BI press release. BI also provided reporters with access to paid physicians and patient spokespersons.

The case originated from a complaint by a "general practitioner" filed with the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), which oversees the ABPI Code.

The PMCPA "was very concerned about the content of the press release and the briefing material for spokespersons. The [PMCPA] Panel considered that these would in effect encourage members of the public to ask their health professional to prescribe a specific prescription only medicine. The Panel was concerned about the lack of information in a consumer press release relating to side effects."

In the YouTube video mentioned above as well as in a recent tweet, BI said it "believes there are better mktg tools than FB & Twitter." It appears that BI thinks friendly news reporters are among the better tools available to it.

It's amusing that the news articles made some great marketing statements that BI could never make, such as referring to Pradaxa as a "super pill" and a "revolutionary drug." The stories also dissed the competition (warfarin) by referring to it as "rat poison." BI press materials did not refer to warfarin as rat poison and "otherwise made no disparaging remarks about the medicine," said PMCPA, which had no evidence about how warfarin had been described by Boehringer Ingelheim’s spokespersons or at any press conference. Therefore, no breach of the Code was ruled in that regard.

Obviously, what "spokespersons" say falls under "word of mouth" (WOM) marketing, which is what BI says is one of those "better mktg tools than FB & Twitter." As this case demonstrates, it is very hard to prove that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for WOM marketing that violates regulatory and industry rules.

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