My friend Jonathan Richman (@jonmrich) often sees the pharma marketing glass half full, whereas I often see it half empty. It’s just the way we are wired. The goal, however, is the same — improve pharma marketing.

Jonathan likes lists. In a recent article entitled “10 sneaky marketing tactics you need to avoid” published on iMedia Connection, Jonathan lists some dubious marketing tactics that companies should avoid. After just a cursory reading of his list, it is obvious to me that pharmaceutical marketers have not been very good at avoiding most of these and other sneaky tactics.

#1 Sneaky Tactic Pharma Has Not Avoided: “AstroTurfing”

“Simply put,” says Richman, “AstroTurfing is when a company or group creates a campaign designed to look like a grassroots consumer movement when, in fact, it’s completely artificial.”

Some time ago, I pointed out one instance of “astroturfing” in the pharma realm: the RLS Foundation. The Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) Foundation — a US patient organization — has very close ties to GSK — a UK-based company that markets ReQuip for treatment of (RLS). In fact, I believe that the RLS Foundation was established by GSK. Here are some interesting factoids that support my thesis (see “Restless Pharma Marketing“, for more details):

  • GSK is a Gold Corporate Sponsor of the RLS Foundation, which means GSK has given the foundation a good chunk of change;
  • at least one member of the Foundation’s Medical Advisory Board has financial ties to a pharmaceutical company (GSK) with a treatment for RLS;
  • the PR activity of the organization seems to have picked up right when that company’s drug (ReQuip) hit the market;
  • the first RLS Foundation Science Award went to Ronald L. Krall, MD, Senior VP of Worldwide Development at GSK;
  • Dr. Richard Allen, a member of the RLS Foundation’s Medical Advisory Board, had the “pleasure” of “collaborating” with GSK to do studies supporting the data on the prevalence of RLS in the US and in Europe;
  • the color scheme of the RLS Foundation’s Web site matches that of the Requip product site.

#2 Sneaky Tactic Pharma Has Not Avoided: Spam and violation of privacy rights

Jonathan calls this “Lucky guess (aka, we were ‘smart’ enough to acquire your email address, so we’re sending you stuff).” This falls under the heading of contacting someone without their permission. This actually happened to me when I participated in a focus group for erectile dysfunction. I received a phone call from the agency doing the research because I requested information from the Levitra Web site — I did not give my phone number, but gave my address so they could send me the information. The researchers were “smart enough” to obtain my phone number from my address and bingo! “Lucky guess!” Read all about my experience in the Pharma Marketing Blog post “Market Research: Privacy Matters.”

#3 Sneaky Tactic Pharma Has Not Avoided: Anonymous tidying (aka, we fix what we don’t like and hope you don’t find out)

“If you try to cover up your identity online, people will find out. Always,” says Richman.

Oh boy! Where to start here? You can find some good examples of this sneaky tactic in my “Web 2.0 Pharma Marketing Tricks for Dummies” (click here and use code ‘free68’ to get it FREE). In there you’ll find out how pharma marketers or their agents pose as consumers on social networks, alter Wikipedia entries about drug information, and lots more sneaky stuff.

#4 Sneaky Tactic Pharma Has Not Avoided: A little off the top (aka, we reject reality and substitute our own stylized version)

Pharma marketers routinely do this by overestimating the number of people who MAY have the medical condition that the drug is approved to treat. Sometimes, it is claimed, pharma marketers create diseases where none really exists. This is called “disease mongering.” You can read about that in this Pharma Marketing News article: “Disease Mongering: When Is the Line Crossed?” I also have documented this “sneaky tactic” a number of times here on Pharma Marketing Blog. See, for example, “40over40: Lilly’s DTC ED Awareness Campaign in the UK” and, more recently, “Danica Patrick: NASCAR Driver, Super Model, Superbowl Lingerie Ad Model, & COPD Spokesperson All Rolled Into one!

I am not going to address the remaining 6 “sneaky tactics” on Richman’s list; I need to take my morning shower, especially after revisiting all these sneaky tactics. Some of the tactics probably don’t apply to pharma because they are used to promote consumer products in ways that pharma has not yet mastered. Or it is impossible to know if these tactics have actually been employed. Also, there are many other “sneaky tactics” that Richman doesn’t mention, but which are employed by pharma marketers (see “Dummies”).