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Euro'vision blog

A look at the key issues for pharma across Europe

Digital – still the perceived panacea?

Is industry stepping back from its digital foray? Maybe not entirely, but General Motors’ (GM) recent decision to “reassess” its Facebook advertising could reflect a more rational regard for the use of technology within our industry too 

None of us is untouched by technology today; it's a revolution that happened a while ago now – so it's surprising to see how fragmented the digital landscape across Europe still remains. Following from my last look at events in the agency sphere perhaps its worth looking at some snapshots of the pharmaceutical companies themselves, and how things are shaking out.

Many pharmaceutical marketeers (at least privately) are still confused about the use of digital – and where, how and when it is best employed. As the Magpie effect (collecting bright shiny new digital ideas) becomes 'old' there is a real desire to understand a rational way to approach channel selection and the use of technology. The reality is that the target audience and the desired interaction with them, drives both the message and the tactical choices. Many companies are now reverting to a back-to-basics approach to their marketing, but with a more holistic mindset.

And with signs that even consumer goods' companies are becoming more wary of the return they get from their social media forays (the recent decision by GM to withdraw from advertising on Facebook being a major event), pharmaceutical marketeers still feel guilty that somehow or other they are 'missing out' on the power of social media.

GM spokesman, Pat Morrissey, commented that the automaker is reassessing its Facebook advertising and clarified that the review is part of a regular analysis the company conducts on spending its advertising funds effectively. "We look at this with all media outlets; we look at the effectiveness," he said. "We move money around to various outlets."

His comments reinforce the fact that consumer goods' companies are starting to look more rationally at what they are doing, rather than remaining dazzled by possibilities.

It is also interesting that a surprising number of pharmaceutical companies that have rolled out electronic details (generally iPad-based) either do not require a back-end analytic capability built in, or if they do have the capability frequently do not use this capability in the closed-loop fashion that was intended.

Perhaps we are seeing the true place of such detail aids – as a better way to deliver exciting, media-rich information, in a customisable and targeted fashion, rather than the core of an integrated CRM programme.

Certainly the novelty of a representative merely showing an iPad to the doctor has long since worn off, and it will be the relevance and interest of the content that dictates if this type of detail will have greater longevity than its tablet-pc based predecessor.

Much as early cinema used the theatre and vaudeville as a reference device, until the 1925 silent movie, Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisentstein changed and re-focused it in a different way (with edits, close-ups, cuts, time shifts and larger-than-life scenes) – some iPad implementations still fail to shift gears, away from a PC to a post-PC device model.

And while many pharmaceutical companies now see that digital fits happily with the rest of the marketing mix, a few still retain separate and distinct digital departments: these often working across brands but sometimes seemingly in isolation from them! Tellingly the number of digital pitches (pitching for the digital component of a brand plan in isolation from the other parts of the plan) seems have diminished.

Is it just a matter of time before all digital departments are subsumed into the marketing department and cease to have an independent existence? As a colleague of mine reminded me – at the turn of the 19th century, in order to deal with the new, frightening and transformative phenomenon, many large companies had 'Chief Electricity Officers' – an interesting parallel!

So what can we conclude from all of this? Actually it seems plain that slowly digital is being assigned its proper place in the industry as a vital, effective tool when used correctly. However it is clear that it is not the answer to all the challenges that have been set by a business model transformed by political, regulatory and social change. Much like the agency world, traditional values and ideas will probably hold the key to whether companies survive and thrive. Sadly – there is no 'magic bullet!'


Article by
Max Jackson

Max Jackson is CEO, EMEA & APAC, Sudler & Hennessey and former chair EACA Healthcare Communications Council

23rd May 2012

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