Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pharma Online Marketing: Got Game?

My friend Fabio Gratton, Co-founder of Ignite Health and fellow blogger at IgniteBLOG: The Perfect Storm, recently wrote about a game on WebMD called "Give Your Legs a Rest." He confessed that the game was addictive.

This game was developed for WebMD’s client, Mirapex, a drug intended to treat Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) as well as Parkinson’s disease. Mirapex is produced by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

See the screen shot below.

Once I got the idea, I too became addictive to this game.

The object of the game is to score points by aligning three of the same objects (stapler, coffee cup, etc.) horizontally or vertically. You do this by clicking on two adjacent office items, which switches their locations on the board. Try it here and you will soon get the idea too.

While the game is addictive and held my attention for a few minutes, I completely ignored all the surrounding Mirapex promotional advertising and almost did not notice the option to take the quiz to see if I had RLS. [Sample question: I often find myself tired and dragging during the day. Please answer "Yes" or "No". It turns out that this is a trick question: "being tired and dragging" may be symptoms of old age or dissatisfaction with your routine office chores, but they apparently are NOT symptoms of RLS!]

I only played "Level 1: Busy Day at Work", the theme of which was "Conference calls, deadlines, e-mails..." [all of which I ignored while playing the game] "...Getting away from your desk can seem impossible."

I presume one of the goals of Level 1 is to help you cope with RLS by offering tips along the way like "stretch your legs" (see "Quick tips" at the top). If so, I would say this online game, which ties you down to your chair more effectively than usual office activities, runs counter to the message it is trying to convey.

The disclaimer states:
"This tool does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911."
Putting aside the unlikely scenario of an RLS "medical emergency," I find that this game, in and of itself, offers very little "information" about RLS.

This WebMD offering is called "Advergaming" and is actually a form of online advertising tracked by eMarketer, a market research company. Last month it produced a report called "You've played the game. Now eat the food," in which senior analyst Lisa E. Smith states:
"Like advertisers in other industries," said Ms. Phillips, "CPG [Consumer Package Goods] companies spend far more on interactive marketing campaigns, such as microsites, advergames and downloadable music, than on Internet advertising such as display ads, search and e-mail. This year, CPG companies will spend $600 million to advertise online, just 3.1% of the total $19.5 billion expected."
eMarketer expects US spending on advergaming will hit $344 million in 2011 (see chart).

Is what's good for CPG also good for pharmaceuticals?

I don't think so! The purchasing decision for soda or chips is not that complicated, certainly not as complicated as the decision to ask your doctor whether or not Mirapex or Requip is the best treatment for your RLS symptoms. Therefore, CPG advertisers are really brand advertisers and use online entertainment to keep the brand images in front of you.

Drugs also want to be brands, but they cannot be brands like Coke or Pepsi. If you tie too many positive benefit emotions and not enough risk emotions to a drug brand, you will violate FDA regulations regarding DTC. Pepsi and Coke have no such problem. They can link their brands exclusively to positive images (think happy young partygoers on the beach). They don't have to balance these with negative images of obese youngsters downing 20 ounces of Pepsi in a single gulp!

Drug advertising is held to a higher standard and DTC Advergaming should also be held to a higher standard. There should be a better way to integrate product information into the game itself.

Here's an example.

Remember the TV or card game called "A Game of Concentration?" Here's an online example.

The object is to click on two squares to reveal 2 identical images. If you do, those squares are "turned over" to reveal something underneath. In the TV game, a rebus puzzle was underneath the squares. To win the game you had to solve the rebus.

Can you solve this rebus?

This rebus does not necessarily reflect conventional wisdom. It is intended for gag purposes only and does not address any personal opinions of the Mirapex "give Your Legs a Rest" advergame. It is not a substitute for professional promotion, DTC advertising or "advergaming." Never ignore professional medical communications advice in seeking market share because of something you have read on this blog. If you think you may have an online promotion emergency, immediately call 215-504-4164 or 888-285-5744(8).


  1. I quite agree that advergames can hardly apply to pharma. Mostly because you might not want to associate fun with a serious disease. But what about OTC ? This might relate more to CGP. I would argue the same for the brand image as the purchasing decision is lighter.

  2. I am trying to find more pharma advergames. Do you know more ? Thanks

  3. Look to the recent issue of Pharma Voice or check out IgniteHealth Blog.

  4. Matthew12:15 PM

    Check out the following games:

    A game produced for GlaxoSmithKline's Diabetes Drug Avadia:

    A game produced for the morning-after-pill Norlevo:


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