Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Internet and Drug Advertising

Big Pharma spends a lot on Internet ads, a whopping $13.8 billion in the first quarter this year.

Is it worth is? After all, doctors write the prescriptions, so why advertise to regular people?

You bet it's worth it!

According to a study by MRx Health/Informed Medical Communications, doctors grant 87% of patient requests for specific drugs.

But it doesn't stop there. Many of those patients asking for a specific drug read about it on . . . the Internet.

Here are the numbers.

Percent of consumers who ask their doctors for specific drugs based on:

What they read on the Internet--34%
What family and friends say--33%
What they see on television--31%
What they read in the newspaper--3%

Did you notice that last number? 3%!

Now you know why the Internet and evening television is booming with drug commercials, showing happy, dancing people, and why regular newspapers are in trouble.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back to subject matter you excel at Doc. Although, uncovering the rather unusual goings on behind the scene at THP was an enlightening intrigue for a couple days. Interesting coincidence (timing wise) with your discovery of Whacko-Yaco comment activity, ID, and JWT week at THP?

Personally, I rather enjoy a good intrigue, and even the occassional simple diversion (a la baby bird).

Link to a good article originally published by the Guardian/UK. It provides a little more international prespective on ethics (or lack there of), marketing tactics, and spending - http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0626-02.htm

Money quote: "Consumers should be concerned because time and again the companies violate their own industry's ethical marketing codes."

Anonymous said...

The whole mess is grossly compounded by the cozy relationship between the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA. Additionally, the bulk of medical research going on at the university level is now paid for by drug company money and not public grants.

Please read the following article that appeared in the Washington Post today:

Anonymous said...

Finally, something other than THP. This is why I read your stuff.

One has to wonder whether "ethical marketing" is as much an oxymoron as "military intelligence" or "common sense".

Not included in all those advertising dollars are the twin beasts of spamming and comment hacking, which seems to be where the pharma industry spends a lot of off budget money (through wholesalers and distributers rather than drug companies themselves).

It also feeds the need for an entire industry devoted to spam-blocking email.

Print is dying and I say Good Riddance. Newspapers and magazines are environmentally unsustainable. So is the Internet but that's another post.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, and the link between big Phrama and Arianna is pretty much undeniable now.

Get rid of the person who exposes the frauds the pharma industry perpetrates upon the world and you make that much more money.

What is really a shame is that Arianna has sold her soul to very same people who control the government while at the very same time pretending to lash out at them.

All the while of course pocketing their money.

Arianna has lost all credibility and for the same reason our congress and big business have.


The love of money is indeed at the root of all evil.

PhysicsGoddess said...

Very interesting numbers, those.

Of course, newspapers face a variety of challenges in the internet era; decreasing ad revenue from decreasing readership is just one of them.

I've found the increased marketing of particular drugs over the past decade or so to be a fascinating, if somewhat inevitable, turn of events. I realize that there are illnesses that remain dangerously undiagnosed and that more attention should be brought to them; but should this increased awareness be marketed to the "supply" side (doctors) or the "demand" side (patients)? I can see where both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Another aspect of this phenonmenon that fascinates me is mentioned by the study quoted: "doctors grant 87% of patient requests for specific drugs." This at least partly opens a pandora's box of issues in my mind: whether or not the patients really need the medications they're requesting, how often doctors carefully diagnose the patient if they request a medication, etc.

I realize it's a great marketing strategy, and is obviously very successful; but I worry somewhat about its long term implications.

Anonymous said...

This survey is not completely useless, but the methodology cited in the sidebar of the original article make it clear that its applicability is wildly overstated. Most obviously:

1) Respondents were triply self-selected: First as regular internet users, then as members of an online survey database, and finally as those members who agreed to take the survey. In other words, this survey is of people who are heavy internet-users, active survey-takers, and very interested in pharmaceuticals. Not an insignificant market, but a niche market all the same.

2) Your statement “Doctors grant 87% of patient requests for specific drugs” is misleading for several reasons:

A) By the previously referred to self-selection process, these people are very well-educated about pharmaceuticals, at least as compared to the general population, and will go into see their doctors already quite well-informed. This is especially important because patients with chronic illnesses often develop quite a bit of expertise.

B) We have no idea as to what the drugs in question are or what the request is. Is the patient asking for a generic or resisting it? Are they saying they are willing to tolerate the sting of Finacea for an off-label treatment rather than the approved, but less-effective treatment? Are they disagreeing with their doctor or would the doctor have chosen that drug anyway? Is it a useless drug that the patient was suckered into asking for by advertising? And so forth.

C) The “87%” does not mean 87% of all respondents, but only the respondents who asked for a specific drug. At this point it is difficult to extrapolate, because I could not find the raw numerical data (time crunch), but according to the subhead on p.54 of the original article: which reads: “62% spoke to their doctor about information they found online; 34% of those asked for a specific Rx.” So let’s work the numbers: .62% * 34% = 21% * 87% = 18.3%. 18.3% is the actual number of—self-selected—survey respondents who asked for and received a specific drug.

D) There is no specific question asking them to elaborate on how often they ask for a specific drug and if they ever asked for a drug and were not given it.

3) According to your lead, 1st Quarter 2006 pharma internet ad spend was $13.6 billion, an astonishing amount for an industry whose average total quarterly global revenues in 2005 were $150.5 billion. http://www.imshealth.com/ims/portal/front/articleC/0,2777,6599_77478579_77478598,00.html

Furthermore, the most recent free trustworthy internet advertising revenue report I could find was PriceWaterhouseCooper’s April, 2005, survey of inernet ad revenue, sponsored by the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). The most recent quarter surveyed was 4th Quarter 2004, which reported total ad spend from all sources as $2.69 billion, of which 6%, or $161.4 million came from a category identified as “Pharmaceutical & Healthcare.” http://www.iab.net/resources/adrevenue/pdf/IAB_PwC_2004full.pdf
In 15 months, then, according to you, quarterly pharmaceutical internet advertising has gone from $161.4 million to $13.8 billion.

4) Finally, regular newspapers are not in trouble because companies do not advertise in them; rather, companies do not advertise in the newspapers because they are in trouble.

Anonymous said...

Beeta: Pharmaceutical companies certainly do spend a fortune on advertising and undoubtedly the effects are at times pernicious (getting people to use drugs they otherwise would not), but also beneficial (learning about drugs or their uses that were otherwise unknown) or simply non-existent as well. There would have to be a very careful study done to see what influence actually occurs that otherwise would not have. I lack both the time and resources to search for any that may have been done.

In my own experience, which is simply anecdotal, drug choices are far more strongly influenced by one’s medical insurance coverage—i.e. what tier a drug is in—than by advertising.

You are absolutely right that for most people in developed societies, their day-to-day habits will do far more to determine their health than anything else.

Many people have suffered from the “drugs to treat the drugs” phenomenon you describe, but vastly more have had their lives saved by them, including me, several times.

Various experiments apropos of your proposal to “reconsider the political/social structure of our society” were extensively performed throughout the 20th century. Results demonstrated that even those who survived had poorer health than the control groups.

Also, pharmaceuticals would not be able to compete cost-effectively in commodity markets like heroin, cocaine, etc., so I do not think your drug war theory is accurate.

Now, Budweiser, on the other hand….

Anonymous said...

I have a free trial subscription to Time magazine and I can tell you that I'm basically getting a newsletter telling me all the unnecessary drugs out there for me to consume.

Anonymous said...


Yes, there's the least supervision of medical devices which is rather horrific if you realize the small tolerances in function that are typically allowed for a person to be healthy.

Consumer groups can't possibly compete with the lobbying power of the big pharmaceutical companies in Washington. What I particularly hate is the way the pharmaceutical companies have all but taken over medical research, particularly in my field which is psychiatry.

Anonymous said...


I completely agree with you and I'm a doctor. It gets so insidious that the drug reps actually have statistics on the prescriptions that docs in their area prescribe. If you prescribe a lot of a company's newest drug, you get perks. I absolutely hate it and don't think it should be that way but I've seen countless collegues grasp at that tit.

Anonymous said...

Drug companies aren't in the business of curing anything. They are in the business of providing remedies. If they cured all the illnesses, what would happen to their business? They can't cure atheletes foot and the common cold after how many years of trying and they're talking about curing Cancer and AIDS? Riiiiight. It's all about the money. Magic looks healthier than 99% of non-HIV positive people.

Anonymous said...


I won't argue with you about the remedy thing vs cure. The fact is that the science is beginning to be there to actually cure and that's what's so tragic. I can just tel you as someone who operates within the system to try to help people it's really frustrating and sad.

PharmaGuy said...

Are you sure of your numbers? As soon as I saw $13.8 Billion spend by pharma on INternet Ads in Q106, I stopped reading your blog.

This number is way off -- by a factor of one thousand I would imagine. The ENTIRE amount of Internet advertising by ALL advertisers is no where near $55 BILLION per year ($13.8 x4). The entire promotional budget for the pharma industry (705 of which is aimed at doctors and includes the inflated value of samples given to docs) is $20 Billion or so. Only about 5% or less of that ($20 million per year or $4 Million per quarter) is spent on Internet promotions of all kinds.

So, I am curious where you got your number from?

John Mack
Pharma Marketing Blog

Anonymous said...

To John Mack-

Is your total budget estimate of $20B for US spending alone, or is this a global spending number?