Drug Makers Move Slowly in Social Media

The Issue:

Pharmaceutical companies' advertising budgets might reach $38 billion by 2014, but few of those dollars will go toward Twitter feeds, blog sites, or other social media outlets like Justmeans. This is the conclusion of a new report examining online advertising in the drug industry. According to the report, published by the marketing consultancy eMarketer, online advertising will only account for 4% of all pharmaceutical ad spending through 2014 despite predicted strong growth in the industry.

The pharmaceutical industry is reluctant to spend money for online ads because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has moved ponderously in determining regulations for this type of marketing. Federal regulators have taken measured steps for good reason. The FDA's 1997 decision to allow drug makers to air advertising on television touched off a controversy that continues to divide many policy makers, public health officials, physicians, and consumer advocates. Some believe that this direct-to-consumer advertising drives demand and increases physician prescribing. Others argue that the ads provide an important source of information for consumers and their doctors.

My Take:

While direct-to-consumer advertising should be carefully scrutinized, the FDA should also move more quickly to describe policy for online pharmaceutical advertising. This is because the online environment is different than other types of advertising venues. Online ads can be ignored, fact-checked, or critiqued instantly whereas television or print ads are presented to a more passive audience with fewer critical resources. This ability to interact with pharmaceutical advertising encourage companies to offer more transparent, informative ads since the online community works to dismantle misleading content. Good pharmaceutical ads would provide useful information to patients and prescribers while bad ads would suffer YouTube parodies and Twitter #fail tags, not to mention well-articulated criticism on Justmeans.com.

What's your take? Add your comments and thoughts below to join the discussion.

Other Resources:

See my previous Justmeans post for more on pharmaceutical companies on Justmeans. For more on health care industry social media presence, check out Katherine Hobson's recent columns at The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog. She wrote about the eMarketer report on 8/26 and about health insurers use of social media on 8/19.

Photo credit: Twitter.com