Web Becomes Healthier Choice, Consumers Go Online To Get Pharma Info Missing From TV
Conducted by healthcare marketing firm Manhattan Research, ePharma Consumer v3.0, suggests that healthcare consumers are receiving scant information from ubiquitous TV ads and even their doctors and pharmacists. As a result, these consumers are turning to the Web in record numbers: Manhattan estimates that 13 million consumers visit pharmaceutical Web sites after seeing a drug advertised on television. Similarly, while the volume of calls to the 800 numbers featured in many direct-to-consumer ads has stabilized over the last three years, visits to pharma product Web sites have tripled during that same period.
"You can't really learn much from a TV ad," says Manhattan president Mark Bard. "With a lot of these ads, you have two old people sitting on a pier and they're happy. But what does the product do? [Consumers] get their initial awareness through TV, and they're turning to the Internet to continue the process."
What this means for media planners is that they might have to try to convince Web-weary pharma marketers, many of whom soured on the medium during the late-1990s boom, to give the Internet another chance. Right now, pharmaceutical companies spend around $3 billion annually on consumer advertising. Bard, however, estimates that most of these companies dedicate a mere five to seven percent of that sum to Web marketing efforts. And while $150 to $210 million is nothing to sniff at, it's a pittance by comparison.
"The 13 million figure is the key, really," Bard says. "Even for somebody who's not that interested in the Internet as an advertising medium, that figure should get their attention pretty quickly."
The study's most essential finding, according to Bard, is that pharma marketing has not yet reached the point of saturation on the Internet, as opposed to other mediums. "There's still a lot of growth potential," he notes. Still, he adds that the report's revelations about consumers' specific Web habits defy conventional wisdom: "They rely heavily on multiple sources. Most of us assumed that they'd sit down in front of the computer with a mission, but even if they have the URL for a particular product branded on their forehead, they still might start out with a Google search. I guess that's the beauty of the Web - nobody's fixed in on going to Lipitor.com."
As for his advice to pharma media planners in the wake of the study, Bard stresses both flexibility and consistency. "Pharmaceuticals are not a straight media buy. It's not just 'here's some banner ads,'" he explains. "You have to make sure your online branding is consistent with what you've done offline, and you also have to take into account that you might not be after the person who's taking the pill. For example, I don't think there are many Alzheimer's patients researching their condition on the Web."
For ePharma Consumer v3.0, Manhattan approached 3,607 U.S. adults who have looked to the Internet for information about pharmaceuticals. The research was conducted in December 2003.