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For Pharma, All Of This Has Happened Before


As someone who grew up with the internet and made it my career I can tell you, the era we’re in right now looks and smells oddly familiar. How? Well ‘back in my day’ the Internet was just a thing. Conceptual. New. No one understood it but everyone was talking about it. Consumers played with it. Brands tried to use it. The media talked about it endlessly. Like with most new things, objectives for success were often poorly defined, but money, gobs and gobs of money were thrown at it.

Strategies evolved that more or less correlated to success. People got smarter. The tools got cheaper and easier to use while the barriers to working the on net got smaller and easier to manage.

Inside of pharma, regulators and brand managers alike struggled to define how to use the internet properly. Adoption happened slowly. Things seemed risky. Hands were wrung, and decisions delayed until others took the lead.

More case studies were needed.

Soon everyone was an internet ‘expert’ and the scrum began. Every agency, freelancer, and Johnny-come-lately tried to get digital work. Innovation was sought at the expense of meaningful results. Things had to be new. They had to be shiny. And they had to have lots and lots of Flash.

Prices fell. The talent pool swelled. Expertise was defined by what you’d just launched. The noise level rose. Soon it became hard to tell what was great from what was working. Flashy was the new good.

Now, reread the previous paragraphs and replace the word ‘internet’ with the words ‘social media’ or ‘mobile’.  All of this has happened before.

Then, terrible things happened. The economy tanked. 9/11 occurred. The dot–conomy imploded. All those people dreaming of their internet riches and piles of stock options e-lost all their virtual iDollars and ended up in

The party was over.

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FDA’s Latest “Guidance” About Mobile Apps Is Much Ado About Nothing

If you spend any amount of time in this business, you no doubt woke up this morning with your Twitter feed loaded with “What the FDA’s Latest Letter Teaches Us About Mobile” tweets. I did.

Let me boil it down for you. Nothing. It teaches us nothing. No, I take that back. If you happen to be the one person left in the universe that doesn’t understand that in order to market any kind of diagnostic device in the United States, it first must be submitted and gain approval from the FDA, then good news! Today has a teachable moment just for you.

In case you missed it, the FDA issued an “It Has Come To Our Attention” letter to Biosense Technologies Private Limited concerning it’s uChek Urine Analyzer. Apparently, BTPL went to market with a smart phone version of a urine stick analysis tool without running it by the FDA first. Or, as noted in their letter, it may just be that FDA can’t find the paperwork.

“We have conducted a review of our files, and have been unable to identify any Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance number for the uChek Urine analyzer. We request that you provide us with the FDA clearance number for the uChek Urine analyzer. If you do not believe that you are required to obtain FDA clearance for the uChek Urine analyzer, please provide us with the basis for that determination.”

2 things here. First, the reason BTPL got a letter was for (maybe) acting in violation of the rules and guidelines that have existed before smart phone devices began being regulated. The only reason people are posting anything about this is the fact that the words “mobile phone” appear in the letter. Second, you will probably get an email or tweet today that suggests that you need to contact X,Y, or Z person as this “new guidance” should require some great consultation to rethink your mobile strategy. Let me save you some time and suggest that their council will be much ado about nothing as well.

10 Things to Do First in Digital Marketing

I’m at the ePharma Summit conference today and have heard a lot of good information about what pharma companies should be doing next in digital marketing. The usual “sexy” topics like social media, of course, are dominating the conversation. Mobile apps are too, as you might have guessed. So, I decided to take a different approach in my talk and do the least exciting presentation of the conference. That is, everything I’m presenting will be things you already know you should be doing.

However, you’re not doing them.
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What If Your Customers Could Vote on Your Ads?

For avid Facebook users, you’ve all noticed the ads that are stuck onto the right side of your screen on nearly every page.


You haven’t noticed them? Well, they are there. Go check it out for yourself and come back.

See. I told you they were there. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t notice them. You’re in good company. Most people don’t notice them. Like many forms of banner ads, they are simply ignored and since they are relatively new to Facebook and people are very focused while on the site, this is even more true. Of course, you may have checked and found that there are no ads on Facebook for you. Congratulations. You’re in good company again along with the millions who use browser plugins to disable all of these ads (myself included).

Oh, yes, people don’t click on them much either. Check out the results from several campaigns I’ve done on Facebook as experiments. The bolded line at the bottom is the aggregate. These campaigns ranged from very broad to highly targeted, but the results are the same…pretty lousy clickthrough rates. (PS: if you’re thinking about advertising on Facebook, lean towards paying per click versus per impression…no one’s going to click on them, so you should be fine.)

Facebook Ads Results

0.074% clickthrough rate. Not 7%. Zero-point-zero-seven percent. Not even a measly half a percent.

I think Facebook knows that this isn’t great and they’re trying to make up for this in a couple of ways. First, price. For all of these campaigns combined, I spent around $200. That’s not going to bankrupt anyone and that got me 614,000 impressions. That’s about $3 per 1000 impressions. Not horrible. Per click, however, I spent about $0.43, which isn’t go great seeing as I probably could have done A LOT better doing paid search on Google.

The second way that Facebook is trying to help advertisers (and users), is by ensuring that only quality ads are shown. Google does this as well by adding in a “quality score” to determine which paid search ads occupy the first couple of positions. You can’t just outright buy the first paid search spot. Over time, if no one ever clicks on your ad, it’ll start to fall regardless of what you bid for the keyword. This is good for users. It’s also good for advertisers. Yes, it makes their job a bit harder because they have to make more relevant ads, but they should have been doing this in the first place. So, even if they have to be somewhat forced into making more relevant ads, it still works out.

The way Facebook helps force advertisers to make better ads is through their rating system. Take a look at a selection of ads that recently appeared on my page:

Facebook Ads

As you can see, they’re all thrilling and well-targeted to me. Just a quick look through and what do I see? First, in ad #1, I can apparently become a timber wolf  judging by the color of this “person’s” eyes. Good news in ad #2, I’m this close to being a filmmaker, which I’ll just call a good fall back job for me if this whole marketing thing doesn’t pan out. And ad #3 features one of my most annoying activities of the Internet, “Mafia Wars.” If you’ve got a Facebook account, you’ve been invited to play this “game.” This is a blocked application for me (yet, I still get the ad for it).

Bottom line: nothing terribly relevant even though Facebook’s ad creation tool let’s you target the ads to point that literally only a handful of people would see it if you so chose. Between selecting for age range, network, location, and keywords, you can target these ads to an almost frightening degree.  But all this targeting apparently doesn’t matter based on clickthrough rates I’ve seen.

Okay, so back to how Facebook “forces” advertisers to make better ads and the point of today’s post. You’ll notice at the bottom of each ad is a thumbs up and the word “Like.” In the upper-right of each ad is an “X,” which is positioned just like the “X” in Windows programs. Here’s how it works…if you click the “Like,” then presumably the ad get some additional quality score, which might make it show up higher on the page (just like Google’s paid search quality score) and you might get more ads with a similar demographic target. What’s missing is a “Hate” or “Dislike” option, but the “X” actually serves that function. If you click the “X” to close the ad, Facebook wants to know why and gives you this pop-up:

facebook ads dislike

As you can see, the “X” is basically serving as a “Dislike,” but you’ve got to be “in the know” in order to know about this (and now you are). Many people have complained about this feature and would rather see a “Dislike” button (myself included). There’s even a Facebook Fan Page called “Facebook, give us a dislike button” with more than 550,000 fans. It’s basically a petition to Facebook demanding this feature. Facebook isn’t known for being very responsive to its users demands, so this might happen, but only if Facebook decides on its own that it’s necessary.

Of course, Facebook, like many other media properties, wants to protect it’s advertisers. Presumably, if you give people a “dislike” button, then when people click it there needs to be some sort of repercussion. Perhaps with enough “dislikes” the ad has to be pulled permanently or the advertiser has to pay more to have it placed. Advertisers don’t like this idea, so their collective power puts companies like Facebook in a tough spot. Make the users happy by allowing them to get rid of the worst ads or make the advertisers (who pay the bills) happy by allowing them to put up any ad they want. You can’t have both. Right now, Facebook has the latter.

I don’t mean to pick on Facebook, as they aren’t the only media property with this dilemma and very few have given any sort of real power to the users to control the ads they see. But, imagine if they did. Imagine if this were required. That’s right, everywhere that your ad appears online, there are also “Like” and “Dislike” buttons. Those ads with the most “Likes” get shown more often and the advertiser pays less and those with the most “Dislikes” get shown less often and the advertisers pay more. The question for media properties then becomes: “can I afford to only have “liked” ads on my site?” That is, if advertisers pay less if people like their ads, will the media properties make enough money? Do they need the cash from the “Disliked” ads just to keep the lights on? To answer the question: “can I afford to?” my answer is “Can you afford not to?” People are already looking for (and finding) ways to block all these ads anyway, so why not increase the chances that they don’t block them by actually making them good?

What’s that you say? It’s not possible to make a banner ad that people want to see? Try this one on for size:

Told you so. There are ads that people want to see. The ad for Pringles you see (and probably clicked a bunch of times) was even the winner of the Gold Cyber Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival this past year. It’s the highest honor you can get for digital work…and it was a banner ad. Fair balance, my company, Bridge Worldwide, created that banner for Pringles (we are the digital agency of record for the brand). [Read my post: “What Pharma Can Learn from Pringles” to hear more about how this ad applies to pharma]

Question: how many “likes” versus “dislikes” would the Pringles ad have gotten? To give you a clue, after the award was announced, a link to a demo of the ad showed up on several social media sites including Buzzfeed, reddit, and many others. It was all over Twitter to the point that the link to view the ad (click to see it in a page) was the 4th most tweeted link on Twitter that day. More than 200,000 people came to see the ad in 2 days…on purpose. That is, they went out of their way to see an ad. Can your ads do that?

Of course, not every ad can be “Can Hands” and certainly it wouldn’t be appropriate for healthcare, but the point remains that our ads don’t have to be mind-numbingly boring and distracting to users. The don’t have to be so bad that people just want them to disappear.

So, here are some current pharma banner ads. Unfortunately, I don’t have the animated versions (only the Premarin one has actual animation, the rest have “scrolling” fair balance only), but I can assure you that it doesn’t add much. Which would you “like” and which would you “dislike”? PS: You don’t have to “like” any of them.

Cymbalta Banner Ad Lipitor Banner Ad

Lyrica Banner Ad Premarin Banner Ad

The Premarin Banner (with the cloud) at least has some animation, albeit odd and “icky” animation.

Premarin Ad 2

I’ll just leave it at that rather than ask a lot of questions about what purple rain has to do with vaginal dryness.

So, which did you give a “like” vote to and which did you give a “dislike” vote to? I’m going to guess that none of them got a “like” vote, which would indicate you’d like to see more of a particular ad. I’d further guess that just about every ad here would have gotten a “dislike.” So, if we implemented a system where only “liked” ads are shown prominently and repeatedly and “disliked” ads were show less often and in less obvious positions, these pharma companies would be paying a lot more to advertise their products.

Sadly, there isn’t a system like this in place now…or is there? There is, of course, a de facto voting system already. If people like your ad, they’ll click on it. That’s a “like.” If people don’t like  your ad, they won’t click on it. That’s a “dislike.” So, how are your click rates?  Is the media property or your media buying agency telling you that your rates are good? Do you think they’re good? How many times did you click on the Pringles banner? Granted, I called attention to it, so more people clicked on it than might have in the “real world.” However, I didn’t make you click it twice or, say, all 97 times (you did make it to the end, right?).

People are voting on your ads. Not just your banner ads either. Your paid search ads, your TV ads, and print too. They’re also voting on the “advertising” your reps deliver to doctors and your marketing at conventions or conferences. People are always voting on your marketing. The question is: are you listening to how they’re voting? Are you making change s based on these “votes”? Maybe you’re just continuing as if you’re completely unaware that these votes exist.  Eventually, the voters will have their say and you might not like who they pick.