You can’t watch network TV without being barraged by pharma and OTC drug ads — some best filed under “TMI.” (We live in fear of a Mucinex ad coming on while we’re eating our dinner in front of the tube).
But pharma and health-care companies haven’t yet planted that mammoth marketing footprint in the online world, and aren’t likely to for the next several years, according to a new report from research group eMarketer, which predicts U.S. online health-care and pharma online ad spending will grow by 10.6% this year to $1 billion and will reach $1.52 billion in 2014.
That may sound like a lot of money, but even in 2014, that will only be about 4% of total U.S. online ad spending. And the CBO estimated that overall, drug companies spent “at least $20.5 billion in marketing” in the U.S. — and that was for 2008.
In part, the relatively small chunk of ad dollars pharma is spending online reflects uncertainty about what the FDA will allow, the report says. “The regulatory issues are one of the biggest stumbling blocks” to a bigger presence online, eMarketer’s Victoria Petrock, author of the report, tells the Health Blog. “Pharma companies are very strictly regulated in terms of providing a fair balance between risks and benefits,” she says. If someone in a forum, or on a Facebook page, shares their experience using the drug off-label, is the pharma company responsible for that content?
The industry is awaiting guidance — which will hopefully come this year, Petrock says — on that issue, and on things such as how much information about risks and benefits has to be presented when a company mentions a drug via social media. Earlier this month, the FDA dinged Novartis for content generated by a “Facebook Share” widget on the drug maker’s website for cancer drug Tasigna.
Digitas Health parsed the FDA’s letter for clues as to what pharma can do, saying that among other things, the agency intends that drug company marketing messages, including social media, offer information about risks “at the same time and in the same manner as the benefit information.” (Putting that risk info one click away is not an option, Digitas writes.)
The eMarketer report warns that FDA guidance is not likely to spell out every detail on how to use social media and other online marketing channels, quoting an outside expert as saying “The FDA is going to take baby steps to move forward.”
Bonus: Read how health insurers are using social media.
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