What’s the Deal with Pharma Advertising? (2)

[June 15, 2010] 

[This post reflects the state of the sites referred to at the time. The issues raised are still relevant to the discussion of consumer-facing pharmaceutical advertising in the US.]

To wander through the dense thicket of digital pharmaceutical advertising is to experience an exhilaration akin to what Charles Darwin must have felt on his many expeditions. What a fascinating array of oddities, spread out far and wide to occupy every possible demographic niche!

Disease state by disease state, the diversity is staggering. Stopping off at the island of Cholesterol, we can explore its craggy coastline with every assurance we will encounter some amazing evolutionary adaptations: strange, exotic and even a little disturbing.

There, on the right: An full-grown Crestor home page. At once, we see its characteristic use of chameleon-like defense mechanisms. Unlike the showy plumage of the male Lipitor we’ll discuss in a moment, the Crestor uses subtle ploys to make itself blend in perfectly with the surrounding Web environment. So much so, I defy any but the most highly trained eye to distinguish it from a majority of other pharmaceutical sites or, for that matter, from a trade industry site.

Hello? I’m over here…
Notice how it avoids the observer’s eyes, distracting potential predators with a revolving display of disconnected statements. What an evolutionary quandary. One would think, in such a remote region of the Web, engagement would be any species’ primary tool for survival.

Further, since Crestor is merely one among many Cholesterol medications, we might reasonably expect the site to lead with a simple, framing statement, something—anything—that might make consumers, worried about their cholesterol levels, want to read on.

Instead, the curious explorer is met with news of a new FDA approved indication. Here’s what’s so very odd about this. Notice the link at the top: “For Health Care Professionals.” We might reasonably assume that, therefore, the page in front of us is meant for the general public.

What excites my scientific curiosity is this simple question: In what way is a consumer untrained in medicine able to evaluate the significance of an FDA indication?

Taken at face value, the statement “FDA approves new use for Crestor” is meaningless. Further, despite the fact that this is one of the site’s main lead-ins, users must click through to the next page to see what the fuss is about.

…the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved CRESTOR® (rosuvastatin calcium) to reduce the risk of stroke, myocardial infarction (heart attack) and arterial revascularization procedures in individuals without clinically evident coronary heart disease but with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) based on age (men =50 and women =60), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) = 2 mg/L, and the presence of at least one additional CVD risk factor, such as hypertension, low HDL-C, smoking, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.

Excuse me, but how does this help anyone? Even for an experienced naturalist this is a bizarre case of consumer-facing advertising that does not, in fact, face the consumer. Or at least, only a consumer armed with the latest edition of the Merck manual.

One last observation before we move on. Note the colorful display of anatomical graphics depicting a clogged artery. In one of nature’s most amazing instances of bio-mimicry, this graphic is a near perfect likeness of the canisfervenschiliensis, commonly known as the North American Chili Dog.

Moving past the Lescol XL site on the right, a true evolutionary throwback with its static, low grade images and insufferably generic messaging, we might just catch up with the swiftly moving Lipitor dead ahead. Quiet now…

Really? I’m scared out of my mind
and you want to click on random boxes?

Here, in an amazing example of dominance display, the male Lipitor unfurls an unending stream of message boxes. Yet in keeping with one of evolution’s many ironies, the messages utterly lack differentiation, as they roll past consumers in a random display.

Was it for this, Mother Nature, that Web sites have spent millions on SEO consultants—just so consumers must hunt and peck to find the information they need? It’s conundrum worthy of a National Geographic special.

Of course, detailed dissection of each of these sites would reveal many pockets of informative data. But that’s exactly the point. The time it would take a worried consumer to comb through this messy pile of articles, charts, and tables is unacceptable. Consumers with a medical concern would do far better to put their research hours into finding a good doctor within their insurance plan—a monumental task by any standards.

Certainly, if the goal of such sites is to build consumer advocacy by “adding value” they can’t be counted as successful. That’s because they fail to grasp the mindset of a worried consumer. In the wee hours of the morning, afraid for their health, only a rare person would find comfort in consulting such an ungainly mass of “facts, advice and helpful tips.”


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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