Tris Hussey over at Rx Market Share Blog sees an upward trend in pharmaceutical marketing and advertising online (see “Pharma looks online for relief“). He cites an eMarketer report (“Pharma Ads Moving Online“) for his optimistic point of view.

There are good reasons why pharma SHOULD be spending more money on online advertising and these reasons are pointed out by Hussey and eMarketer. I also have written on this subject (see, for example,”Internet Marketing: Risks Ahead“) in which I cite data from surveys, etc.

The cause for this optimism is the new guidelines for DTC, which call for more disease awareness advertising (see “PhRMA Finalizes DTC Principles” and “Pfizer DTC Pledge: ED is Litmus Test“) and specifically exclude the Internet from limitations imposed on DTC advertising. Because we all feel that the Internet is best suited for the type of in-depth communication required for disease awareness, we all feel optimistic that more money WILL be flowing into Internet marketing (see, for example “Alternative to DTC: cDetailing,” for an example of how pharma may be using the Internet for DTC in the future).

However, the numbers just are not there YET. “Most pharma companies spent less than 1.5% of their entire advertising budgets online in 2004,” said eMarketer. “AstraZeneca was the most committed online advertiser, devoting 5.7% of its ad dollars to the Internet.”

This is an issue that has come up many times before among members of the Pharma Marketing Online Discussion Group and I have also editorialized on the subject (see “What Stands in the Way of the Mainstream Use of the Internet by Pharmaceutical Companies?“).

A response to this question from Sanjay Virmani, a member of the Pharma Marketing Online Discussion Group, was:

ONLINE Ads: Like what? Banners, google keyword searches, blog posts? I wonder how effective these might be to make folks aware of undiagnosed disease states and potential treatment options. Click-thru rates are limited even for things we buy online like computers and electronics. What might one expect for Rx drugs and health conditions? And now in the post Vioxx environment, how much would consumers really want to get their information from clicks on banners and keywords? Ask yourself if you would.

ONLINE Communication like disease awareness, communication of risks/side-effects: YES. I think pharma should and will focus on this kind of online activity. Of course a bit of this has been going on already. One thing that is missing though is getting physicians to themselves guide consumers to go online and get detailed info on the drug and the disease. And creating the kind of content that gives them (the physicians) the reasons to. If properly executed, this would benefit the consumers and the physicians much more than current practices which seem to be antagonizing both.

If anyone has pharma online ad spending numbers for 2005, please let me know. You can e-mail me at