Picking the right online partners

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Direct-to-consumer marketing is barnstorming the Internet, with pharmaceutical companies aligning with content partners to make their products real players in the virtual world.

Schering-Plough Corp.'s Claritin and Nasonex brands for allergy sufferers are common sponsors and banner advertisers on the Internet, with Claritin also hosting its own online newsletter. Teva Marion Partners has aligned with MSWatch.com to promote its Copaxone drug, a multiple sclerosis treatment.

In 1999, Hoffmann-La Roche advertised six products online, using sites that target specific health-oriented audiences. Tamiflu, a Roche influenza remedy, has found a home advertising in the flu area at Healthwatch.com. Young & Rubicam, New York, handles creative. The company's AIDS therapy drug Fortovase also is promoted online.

With 15,000 to 25,000 health-related Web sites on the Net, partnering with one organization can help proliferate product exposure, says Dan Reinhardt, product director with Roche.

Working with i-frontier, a Philadelphia-based interactive marketing agency that also works with Schering-Plough, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, and SmithKline Beecham, Roche has since taken its Xenical weight-loss product online with ads, site sponsorships and other creative development.

Buying search engine keywords, such as fat, weight loss and Xenical, has been among Mr. Reinhardt's most successful efforts, yielding click-through rates of 8%, he boasts.

In a survey of 50 health-product companies, including pharmaceutical marketers, retailers and healthcare providers, 18% of 1999 marketing budgets was spent on the Internet through site sponsorships and advertising, says Forrester Research. By 2002, 30% of a healthcare company's marketing dollars will be geared to online.

"Because marketing execs view Internet health sites as an effective means of reaching health-conscious consumers, health sites will triple their share of growing online marketing budgets by 2002," says Elizabeth W. Boehm, an analyst with Forrester.

More pharmaceutical marketers should spend online, says Mark Bard, director-health practice for consultancy Cyber Dialogue, because they get a higher return on investment from ad spending on the Internet over TV and print.

Cyber Dialogue estimates pharmaceutical marketers spent about $10 million on site sponsorships and banner ads last year, compared to nearly $1 billion for all TV and print advertising. That breaks down to each patient-to-physician request for information on a drug costing $220 per request for print ads, $197 for TV ads and $14 for Internet.

"Your bang for the buck online is very high," Mr. Bard says. "You have to look at it as an additional channel to drive people to ask more questions."

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