As Facebook prepares to force pharma marketers to include comments on most pages, Google is actively courting the highly-regulated industry. Working directly with extremely risk-averse drug makers, the company developed a new YouTube feature for them that also can be applied for other marketers. For AstraZeneca’s Medimmune, the change was the difference between having a YouTube channel and scrapping the project all together.
When creating a YouTube channel to educate people about flu vaccines and its FluMist product, Medimmune became concerned that a common feature on YouTube could be problematic from a regulatory perspective. Specifically, marketers and regulatory affairs execs at the company worried that videos appearing in the “Suggestions” column on video watch pages could include content Medimmune was not comfortable associating with their own messages.
“That created some real discomfort for us from a regulatory perspective because we didn’t control it. We felt like we needed to have some more control than just having some random videos pop up,” said Glenn Byrd, senior director of regulatory affairs at Medimmune.
Brands historically have been able to control what appears on channel homepages, but not on the separate pages dedicated to particular videos they may feature there. “Now that watch page has other content on it, and as a regulatory person, the viewpoint is you facilitated to some level the audience going to that content,” explained Byrd. “We got to the point where we almost pulled the plug on the whole project,” he said.
Google responded to YouTube content adjacency concerns by developing the “Safe Watch” feature which allows channel owners with ten or more videos to control what videos show up on watch pages. The Safe Watch function is “absolutely something that others can use as well,” said Amy Cowan, head of industry, health at Google. The firm also suggests they disable video embedding to lessen sharing of their videos outside their own controlled YouTube environments.
Google has coddled pharma companies in other ways, too, holding special conferences for them, and developing a white paper outlining strategies for using YouTube in their marketing efforts.
“We decided we needed to address and demystify YouTube with the pharmaceutical community,” said Cowan.
Still, while pharma brands appear willing to invest in digital marketing, they take few if any chances. A series of videos from Sanofi-Aventis, makers of insulin brand Lantus, features diabetes patient Arturo. The brief video clips on the “Why Insulin?” channel are followed by about two minutes of safety information, sometimes lasting around four times as long as the video content itself.
The Food and Drug Administration has yet to determine official guidelines for pharma brands operating in digital media, so pharma marketers tend to be extremely cautious in determining how to use things like online video, advertising, and social media.
Despite the hesitation, Google is willing to accommodate pharma brands, most likely seeing dollar signs down the road as they adopt digital marketing more fully. In November 2009 the company proposed ad units intended specifically for pharma marketers to the FDA, and even invested in a research study of one of the ad units using a fictitious allergy drug when no actual pharma advertisers were willing to take the plunge for fear of FDA penalties.
The approach could be paying off. Ads from brands such as Nexium appear in Google searches for “GERD,” or Gastroesophageal reflux disease. The ad copy, however, makes no mention of the brand name, instead stating, “Learn About A Treatment That May Help Relieve Symptoms Of GERD.”
When the Medimmune channel for Flu Mist at YouTube.com/WhatWouldYouPick went live last autumn, the firm bought YouTube’s homepage takeover ads for the day to help promote it. And, along with creating its “Why Insulin?” channel, Sanofi-Aventis is also spending money on YouTube ads. A search for “diabetes” on YouTube turns up paid links to promoted videos from the drug maker featured on the Why Insulin? channel and its Sanofi TV channel.
“We view this as a long term approach and see our role as important contributors to the overall diabetes community. We will base our contributions on what we hear rather than what we think people need or want,” Sanofi US Diabetes Division, Digital Media Activities, said in a statement sent to ClickZ. “Another immediate impact of this approach is that we plan to take the information we gain from listening and engaging in dialogue and will use that to improve the content in our existing offerings to help make them more relevant to the diabetes community.”
Meanwhile, the pharma industry seems to get less special treatment from Facebook. Starting in August, pharma brands will be required to allow comments on their pages, though Facebook will let them disable comments in some cases subject to approval. Among the concerns for pharma brands is that consumers could post off-label uses of their drugs or other potentially misleading information. Many are scrambling to decide how to handle their Facebook brand pages as a result.
For Jim Dayton, senior director of emerging media at pharma marketing agency Intouch Solutions, it partially comes down to money. “Google sees that there’s a revenue model to be drawn from the pharma industry whereas Facebook hasn’t really found a revenue stream coming from pharma,” he suggested, noting that he doesn’t know of any pharma brands purchasing ads on Facebook. He continued, “Google understands the importance of pharma to the growth of their company.”
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