Prescribing Online Pharma Marketing.

Is there a better pill?

After 10 years of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising and growth of the US Internet population, the question is not who is searching for health information online but rather who isn’t.

The pharmaceutical industry has responded.

At $5.3 billion, the pharmaceutical industry was the 10th-largest advertising category in the United States in 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Spending by US drug makers rose 13.8% between 2005 and 2006, posting the largest increase among the categories measured.

eMarketer estimates that by 2011 the pharmaceutical category will account for $2.2 billion, or 5% of Internet advertising.

As impressive as these figures are, they could be better.

“Consumers are all over the Internet looking for health information, typically visiting two or three health sites when they go online,” said Lisa Phillips, eMarketer analyst and author of the new report, Pharmaceutical Marketing Online: Stuck in Web 1.5. “They find more information from search engines than television ads, and they trust the Internet more than friends and family for information on prescription drugs.

“Unfortunately, they generally don’t trust the pharmaceutical industry,” she said.

An online survey of consumers by Prospectiv found that 54% prefer to get information from general health sites, 37% prefer specific ailment-focused sites and only 4% favor pharmaceutical company sites.

The means for changing this perception are at hand, if the industry chooses to use them.

Findings from a Medical Broadcasting Co. and CBI Research study indicate that fewer than one-half of pharma Web sites offer interactive features such as product comparison, video, RSS feeds or podcasts, most of which are standard in other industries.

“Having restricted their brand sites to simple online information centers, pharma marketers are missing big opportunities to engage consumers and boost compliance,” Ms. Phillips said. “The pharmaceutical industry has yet to fully adopt Web 2.0 but it should—as quickly as possible.”

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