Could Behavioral Targeting Work for Pharma?

At last week’s EconHealth conference there was much talk about privacy issues, how the pharma and medical/health industry needs a major overhaul, and about emerging models for presenting health information and discussion online. There was a lot less talk about how to monetize that content, i.e. “The Economics of Health Media.”

Still, a couple points were made regarding the money end of things, including advertising.

Steve Case, chairman and CEO of Revolution, which runs health info site Revolution Health, made a couple grandiose prognostications, including one about how the amount of money spent by pharma companies on Web ads will go from 5 percent to 50 percent in the next five or ten years.

More wishful thinking: The recession might help. “If some of these major companies come under some pressure, it’s going to force some people out of their comfort zone….I think there will be an acceleration” of spending online, said the former AOL CEO.

Panelists reminded the audience multiple times that, like it will for sharing health information online, it took a long time for consumers to be comfortable with online banking. But this was something we’ve all heard umpteen times. Where was the conversation about the dollars and cents, the advertising? One question did percolate as I wondered, so I asked it during a panel on “Emerging Models: HealthContent & Web 2.0.” (Note: No conference is complete without a panel whose title features the term Web 2.0 and/or social media. Also, collapsing two words into one suggests hipness.)

The question: Considering the privacy implications, will pharma advertisers ever use behavioral targeting? Raj Amin, CEO of Health video network HealthNation didn’t rule out the possibility of pharma advertisers using behavioral targeting, despite the fact that people may not appreciate being targeted with ads based on interaction with content about a specific disease or condition. Still, he stressed contextual targeting raises fewer if any of concerns.

“Contextual doesn’t send up the same kind of flags,” he said. “Sure there’s an opportunity” to explore use of behavioral targeting, he continued. “But it needs to be done in a way that’s acceptable to consumers.”

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