Pharmaceutical Marketing – Where Do We Draw the Line?

Agencies and Pharmaceutical Marketing

Sitting through a bunch of recent agency pitches it got me thinking, is there a line for Pharmaceutical Marketing that shouldn’t be crossed?

As you may know from one of my blogs, “Why Paying Doctors and Nurses Good Thing,” I am in support of the marketing efforts we have for Physicians.  Because in short, if buying them lunch to give them updated drug or disease state information is the worst thing to happen, I’m all for it. And the alternative seems like a terrible idea.

So it was interesting that this time, it elicited a gut-wrenching response from me. I don’t think I’m conservative, as I’ve spent my career in BioPharma companies. That’s why I support them and what they do.

But for some reason this time was different. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Or maybe it was due to the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandalThey stole our data and used it against us.  It was an apparent invasion of privacy.  But it was hard not to see the parallels with some of the data Pharmaceutical/Healthcare companies are purchasing and targeted marketing we do ourselves.

Somehow, the realization made me feel slightly ‘dirty’ about what they were doing.

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CNBC -Here’s everything you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica scandal – Link

Just because you can do micro-targeting doesn’t mean you should – Article Link

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Pharmaceutical Marketing Tactics

So what exactly am I talking about? Well the field is limited in due to the marketing regulations. It’s why you see such strange tv ads that don’t relate to the product. They more try to elicit a feeling or urgency to talk to your doctor. Not to mention, there are somethings you just can’t and shouldn’t probably say.

Whether it is the tv ad, patient brochure, digital banner ad when you search google, etc. it’s all reviewed and regulated. Because pushing the boundaries can result in some significant consequences (fines, no longer being able to sell the drug/or limited selling, etc.).

But now, the industry is starting to break into other types of digital marketing. It’s advertising that you’d typically see for what’s considered ‘consumer marketing’ (anything you find at Target or a car for instance). One good example would be the use of social influencers.

We all have seen the Kardashians, and random internet ‘stars’ promote products on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, etc. But how often do you see a drug advertised there? Unless it’s a lifestyle drug (think Viagra) I doubt you’ve seen much.

But now, the tides are turning. And it’s where they are starting to push the boundaries of what marketing can / should do. No longer is it just Phil Mickelson telling you how Enbrel helped him.  Now marketing companies are looking for the average ‘influencer’ who might have the disease or be part of a foundation to promote their products.

Marketing that Starts to Push Boundaries


  • Micro-targeting / Micro-influencers – There’s a reason FB has a $5B fine to pay, and Cambridge Analytica had to close their doors.
  • Geofencing – Ex: You walk into a hospital, and they can send you information about a drug, disease, etc. And you thought Target was naughty for raising their app prices when you enter their stores!!
  • Re-targeting – when you don’t respond the first time to a banner ad, website, etc. they email you and find you. Think Pottery Barn for their obnoxious re-targeting practices. Side note: don’t ever visit their website unless you want 300 emails a day from them.
  • Social Media – from FB pages, twitter accounts, data purchases on google searches and medical information, to monitoring Reddit, and other sites for information. The big Pharma companies have started the trend, and others are beginning to follow suit.
  • Mobile – Basically if it’s a website or app for your phone, there’s going to be some type of marketing that could be associated with it. Or might be listening to your conversations *cough* facebook messenger *cough cough*
  • Artificial Intelligence – From scanning digital medical records from your doctor to the hospital, it’s a new way to identify patients and then reach out to them/the doctor’s.
marketing pharmaceutical

A Fair Balanced Marketing Article

If you are in Pharmacueticals/Biotechs, you should get a chuckle from this.  If not, it’s why you hear of all the 61 side effects (including that pesky diahreaa) of a drug during advertising done by the industry. More simply – It must be ‘fair balanced’ between the benefits/negative consequences.

I do want to say that not all of our marketing efforts should be thought of negatively. If you had a rare disease, a genetic predisposition for a condition or wanted to find out about the latest clinical trial for your cancer, you’d want that information to be easy to find. So can one argue that it’s terrible?

I think it speaks to the general notion of marketing (and how invasive it is). Just because you can buy the data, or micro-target audiences with ads, should you? Who will tell them to stop? And who will stop them when they are making billions of dollars from it?

Even if you think marketing is crossing the line, there is always some benefit in them doing so. It’s just where do you draw the line in within not only Healthcare, but the larger ecosystem? I think more people are starting to shy away from sharing information. And I’m with them. So the line may end up by been drawn by the consumer, before regulators get the chance to do so.

10 Quick Tips to Keep Marketing out of Your Business


1 – Don’t ever give out your email – you’re asking to be emailed by them and 563 of their friends.

2 – Use anti-tracking or ad blocking tools-like Privacy Badger, Adblock Plus, Disconnect and Ghostery

3 – Use duckduckgo or google incognito mode when searching/browsing (Basically don’t ever search for anything in basic google. ever.)

4 – Use a landline for all of your calls. Kidding.

5 – Use VPN’s when using public wifi.

6 – Live off the grid to limit your digital footprint. I mean, who doesn’t want to live in a cabin in the woods like the unibomber did?

7 – Turn off your GPS/Location finders on your phone.

8 – If you have Alexa or a Virtual assistant, make sure to opt out of the data collection feature (if they have it).

9 – Opt out of ads – use the Digital Advertising Alliance’s opt out page.

10 – Quit buying online if you don’t need to (which seems impossible). But don’t worry, the amazon drone will be watching you soon and suggesting future purchases.  I mean, they were dropping off another one to a nearby neighbor so…

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