Soon after I posted a blog entry and tweeted about cholesterol-lowering drugs (see here), I “coincidentally” received the following e-mail message (click for an enlarged, readable view):

I do not remember opting in to receive email from Insyst Media — the company that sent me this email. But, who knows, it may be one of those “third-party partners” of a website where I signed up to learn more about cholesterol.

So, naturally, I clicked on the “GET THE FACTS” button and was delivered to this intriguing Web page (click on image for an enlarged, more readable view):

Again,I don’t recall opting in to any list maintained by  SearchNext, which is the company that seems responsible for this page. But being really curious where all this was leading, I obey and click on the button as indicated and end up on this page (click on image for an enlarged, more readable view):

Needless to say, I also never opted in to receive ads from –the entity that maintains this page. But I suspected that I was getting close to the sources who paid for all these companies to deliver ads to me. So I click on each ad on this page and discover that the top three links lead to pharmaceutical sites. One leads to Vytorin (Merck), another to Lipitor (Pfizer), and the third takes me to Zetia (also Merck). The last link goes to a Genentech non-branded site.

Following the Money Trail
I’m not interested in tracking down ALL these entities. I did, however, learn that SearchNext is a “pay-per-click advertiser marketplace [that] makes it easy to expand your already successful Google campaigns. Simply send us a dump of your AdWords campaigns and we will target your best converting keywords, geos and demos with our proprietary targeting and user qualification platform to turn users searching for your products into sales.”

This “marketplace” conveniently puts 3 degrees of separation between the spam email I received and the pharmaceutical advertiser:

Pharmaco — Fresh Deals — SearchNext — Insyst Media — ME

I wonder if Merck, Pfizer, and Genentech realize that their Adword campaign is paying for spam e-mail? With 40% of pharma’s online advertising budget allocated to search marketing, I can’t imagine them NOT knowing!