Saturday, July 31, 2010

Promoting Medicine Brands using Social Media

Since social networking sites and blogs gradually became mainstream, brands started exploring this medium to reach out to their target customers, market, and expert influencers.

Looking over a year period, pharmaceutical brands are promoted online through:
  1. Blogger feature
    Companies invite bloggers, influential users in the community or field they are in to contribute original content or be featured. This gives mutual recognition.

  2. Event blogging
    Companies organize brand-related events and invite bloggers. To encourage them to write, a special contest is sometimes organized giving a special prize for the best post-event write-up.

  3. Blog writing contest
    Bloggers and companies can organizing writing projects that best suit their product theme.

  4. User ideas submission
    Target audience or users can come up with major activities that encourages user audience to participate where the winner(s) who get the prize is able to partake in an exclusive event.

  5. Photo submission and voting
    Users submit a photo meeting the contest theme. In order to win, judging and / or enough votes must be garnered from the community. Purchase may be required in order to join or vote.

  6. User story submission and voting
    Participant submit a story meeting the contest theme. In order to win, judging and / or enough votes must be garnered from the community.

  7. Photo tagging in social networks
    This is now popular with sites like Facebook that allows users to tag photos. Those with the most number of tags, like, and comments win.
  8. "Like" a Facebook page
    As shared by Iris, this is where Facebook users are encouraged to become a Facebook fan and win a prize (or participate in its future promotions).
Some challenges I noticed for social media and blogging contest in general includes:
  1. Depending on the prize, some users join the contest even if they don't believe or like the product or event.

  2. Photo and video tagging through Facebook is tantamount to spamming as you can tag around 50 people or more in one photo or video. So to counter this negative perception, what some brands have done is also provide a prize to those who give comments and like votes.

  3. Accusation of fake accounts created to participate in the voting is also seen in some contest. This gives a lot of challenge to contest organizers to monitor bot-votes and the likes. 

      As shown in the slides I embedded in this post, a growing number of pharmaceutical companies are embracing social media and the blogging community in promoting their products. Most of these are done in the exercise of promoting brand awareness.

      However, pharmaceutical companies need to do more beyond just giving us commercial messages. In this time when there are so many supplements with no approved therapeutic claims and BFAD recognized medicines whose safety is questioned, pharmaceutical companies need to give us more information even if the government doesn't compel it.

      Friday, July 30, 2010

      Is Saridon safe? lack of online information can cast product doubts

      Writing for a Cebu-based publication gives me insight on the various activities happening in the city and region as I get to receive invites and "fyi" type of materials through e-mail, text message, and phone calls. Usually I ignore this however the Saridon case caught my interest.

      Let me start by saying I don't know what Saridon is and therefore have to rely on search engines to get more information. What disappointed me though is when I search for more information, there's hardly any coming from the product maker itself appearing on page one.

      Found a commercial that was done a few years ago and a billboard creation blitz that got television exposure. There were 3 Facebook pages about Saridon but hardly do they provide any information and unclear if they are corporate pages or not.

      It turns out that Saridon is a pain killer that is popular in Visayas and Mindanao due to its affordable price. There are warnings about the product from various newspaper columnists saying that Saridon is unsafe citing its previous formula containing phenacetin and its new formulation has propyphenazone that can have negative side-effects to those who take it.

      As the product is only circulated in specific parts of the country, this further fuels the doubt as it might imply testing on specific audience only.

      Bayer eventually reacted and contacted columnists where the explanation was published by some. However, I think that won't be enough to curb doubts that started circulating and even reached those who are unaware of the product to begin with.

      The Saridon case in my opinion proves that product owners can't afford not having a website where sufficient information is provided. When search, they should appear on the page one of search engine results.

      This is most useful if in case news about the reliability of their products start circulating offline. The only choice for most people is to look for additional information and get further clarification. It doesn't help if no sufficient information about it is found online from its own makers and distributors.

      Perhaps the Department of Health should start requiring website presence to all medicines given or issued with BFAD permit (and to those with no approved therapeutic claims) to properly inform the consumer and have a contact point if in case there will be questions or complaints (pointing back to the DOH website).

      For example, I am curious about this case on drug-induced hepatitis with hepatic granuloma due to saridon if it refers to the same Saridon formulation that is circulating in the market today. (saw this from Benj blog post about Saridon)

      For those who are familiar with medicines, perhaps this is also a good opportunity to create a site or blog that aims to educate the consumer further.

      Thursday, July 29, 2010

      No approved therapeutic claims - labeling consistency offline and online

      Like many Filipinos, I have tried various medicines and supplements that carries the label "no approved therapeutic claims" and ignore it most of the time. The decision to purchase was heavily influenced by friends who have tried it and testimonials from other users perceived to be as credible.

      Today, we see a lot of these products marketed as part of a television program where they sponsor segments. Over the radio and on billboards, famous broadcast personalities, politicians, and celebrities promote various brands.

      This one hundred fifty billion pesos (P150B) health supplements industry is definitely thriving as products get sold through various over the counter outlets, direct selling, and multi-level marketing models.

      Lately, new policies were imposed as to how they should be properly labeled. The "no approved therapeutics claim" is replaced with "Mahalagang Paalala: Ang (name of product) Ay Hindi Gamot At Hindi Dapat Gamiting Panggamot sa Anumang Uri ng Sakit”.

      The herbal medicines industry was on an uproar stating that the said requirement will kill their industry. They also filed an administrative and graft case against the Department of Health Secretary.

      But the argument there is, the Filipino consumers should know the truth on what they are purchasing and be properly informed. From a practical and pro-consumer point of view, that is hard to argue.
      However, when you go online, these products get promoted on Facebook, buy & sell sites, and the likes, the Filipino version of the required product label is not necessarily posted. (Of course there is also the question whether it should be imposed in the first place.)

      I'm quite confident with consumers demanding on how product marketers should present their brands online. However, I believe that brands who will be honest enough in presenting themselves like are they "food" or "medicine" and be able to properly explain on what exactly do they do to reduce or heal dangerous diseases that they listed - despite not having "approved therapeutic claims" will standout online.

      They can take the challenge of raising the bar in doing online marketing in their product category.