Last week I posted what I hoped would be the beginning of a series of ideas about alternatives to DTC (see “Alternatives to DTC, Part 1“). Today I’d like to expand upon that with a specific idea for an alternative to DTC, which may or may not be new.

The idea is Consumer Detailing or “cDetailing.”

In June, Medsite announced an agreement with Yahoo! to launch its first Consumer Detailing product, an online, sponsored educational program that will provide the latest drug information — previously only available to physicians — to Yahoo! users.

The interesting thing about this concept or product, which I will describe and illustrate in more detail in the September issue of Pharma Marketing News, is that it can do what TV DTC cannot do — deliver in-depth information, target a specific audience, interact with the audience, and personalize the message. A very large audience — upwards of 70 million people — can be reached through Yahoo! and the other major Internet portal sites and millions of ad “impressions” can be delivered within a matter of days. And it is probably cheaper to do this on the Internet than on TV!

Is the Timing Right?
In previous posts to this blog, I have pointed out several forces that are aligning, which suggests that the time is right for using the Internet to deliver DTC advertising and education:

  1. Consumers are spending more time online and less time on TV
  2. New DTC guidelines call for ads that are more informative, especially about side effects, lifestyle alternatives, and disease awareness. Pharma CEOs are calling for DTC that is more educational (see, for example, “DTC straight Talk“). The general consensus is that TV is not up to the task.
  3. The new DTC guidelines from PhRMA and specific drug companies do not include restriction of DTC on the Internet.
  4. Pharma may be cutting back spending on TV and focusing more on the Internet than they ever did before (see, for example, “DTC in 2005: Old Dogs, New Tricks?” and “Pull Back from DTC on TV?“).
  5. Studies are demonstrating that the return on investment (ROI) of Internet promotions are higher than ROI from DTC (see, for example,”eDetailing ROI Better Than DTC?“).

I am still skeptical that these trends actually will translate into significantly more spending by pharma on Internet marketing and education (see, for example, “Pharma eMarketing at the Tipping Point?“). There are several obstacles to overcome. I’m just going to focus on a couple here.

The Reach Problem
Pharma marketers are concerned about building awareness through reach. They believe that the Internet is a poor awareness tool — it’s nearly impossible, they say, to reach a big enough audience of a particular segment online without a massive ad campaign across multiple sites (see “What Stands in the Way of the Mainstream Use of the Internet by Pharmaceutical Companies?“).

Jack Barrette, Category Development Officer, Health and Medicine, at Yahoo! begs to differ. I spoke with Jack recently and he cited some numbers that convinced me that Yahoo! has significant reach among Internet users if not the general population.

Barrette, however, concedes that the “instantaneous mass reach of TV is a fairly unique proposition that you have with television. Yahoo! has a huge reach among online users, but our goal is to catch the folks that get interested from TV and continue the conversation. ” In other words, a full marketing program should include TV and the Internet.

But NOT your father’s Internet! What Medsite and Yahoo! envision with their cDetailing product is not a web site, per se. It uses the latest technology and educational/motivational methodologies to achieve a very high “rate of engagement.” Again, I will have more to say about this in the September issue of Pharma Marketing News.

If it worked before, why change it?
The second obstacle to pharma spending more money on Internet marketing is that many product managers feel that “what worked for my predecessor will work for me.” They take their predecessor’s budget and tweak the allocation buckets without changing the percentages: so much percent for TV, for print, for detailing, for samples, and for “other.” This last category includes the Internet.

However, what worked before is clearly not working now and pharma is beginning to realize this — being forced to realize it! The formula is broken and they need to fix it. The pharmaceutical marketing juggernaut, however, is like an aircraft carrier — it may take time to turn it around.