Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Response to Mr. Gratton Regarding the Parkinson's Blog Network

Thank you for your very thoughtful response, Mr. Gratton. Here are my thoughts on your comments. Your main premises are as follows:
  1. Incendia is a “health-focused publishing company,” not a marketing company.
  2. Incendia’s goal is to provide a helpful service to the online PD community.
  3. Ignite Health LLC, the nature of which entity you do not describe, rather than Ignite Health the healthcare advertising agency, owns Incendia Health Studios.
  4. The resources required to develop and maintain The Parkinson's Blog Network (PBN) are significant enough to require advertising dollars to keep it up and running.
  5. The advertiser took a big risk on PBN.
  6. The advertiser took the risk because it was the “right thing to do.”
  7. The advertiser has no influence over the content of the site.
  8. This particular pharmaceutical company is just the first advertiser – not intended to be the only advertiser going forward.
Premise #1
Incendia is a “health-focused publishing company,” not a marketing company.

The following is the the text that appears between the "title" tags in the HTML code on Incendia’s homepage. The "title" tag is where one puts the desired title of one's site:
Incendia Health: Community healthcare and medical marketing studio
and in the first "meta" tag:
meta name="description" content="Incendia Health Studios provides dynamic health marketing targeted toward educating and reaching the patient community"
and in the second "meta" tag:
meta name="keywords" content="Incendia Health, Healthcare Marketing, Incendia studios, medical cartoons, interactive health, medical videos, health animation, medical animation, patient advocacy, patient education, patient communities, health community, health communities, patient marketing, medical marketing, dtp marketing, dtc marketing, direct to patient marketing" (all emphases added)
For those unfamiliar with "meta" tags:
“Meta elements provide information about a given webpage, most often to help search engines categorize them correctly. They are inserted into the HTML document, but are often not directly visible to a user visiting the site.” Wikipedia
And, as I already quote in my post:
Ignite formed Incendia to “develop and distribute unbranded disease-education programs targeting the millions of people who use the Internet and other digital technologies to seek and share information on chronic diseases."
“Unbranded” simply means not overtly tied to a particular brand. It does not necessarily indicate a goal more noble than marketing, however. The quote below from a May 2006 article in Med Ad News entitled “DTC Takes a Back Seat” provides some context:
Following a year of uncertainty in the direct-to-consumer [DTC] advertising arena, pharmaceutical marketers identify government regulations and consumer and physician backlash as the biggest challenges... A big shift in industry-wide DTC is expected to occur from branded campaign focus to unbranded campaigns and disease education.
And from the same article:
Ms. [Jackie] Herr [CEO of Ignite Health] says companies that develop and support fresh educational unbranded initiatives, rather than focusing exclusively on branded promotion, will help increase patient compliance, improve consumer health, and build brand loyalty, generating long-term rewards that affect their brands.
And from a July 2006 article entitled “Lost in the Blog,”
"Those marketers who come out ahead will place Web initiatives at the forefront of their product’s promotional efforts, delivering sound, relevant, credible content for access when and how their audiences want it," Ms. Herr says. "When this is done well, patients ultimately find their way to the brand."
Premise #2
Incendia’s goal is to provide a helpful service to the online PD community.

Given that Incendia is a for profit marketing company, it is disingenuous to say that its goal with the PBN is to provide a service to the PD community.

In the limited reading I have had the time to do over the last few days, I have learned a lot. I have learned, if Med Ad News is a reliable source, that the pharmaceutical marketing paradigm is shifting. The Vioxx crisis has given rise to a backlash against direct to consumer marketing at the same time that the internet is providing consumers with the ability to communicate directly with one another about their experiences with particular illnesses and/or therapies.

These changes have demanded changes on the part of pharma. I will try to resist my natural inclination to write a treatise on the subject, but suffice it to say that these changes do not appear to be all bad. One major change, however, is the use of the internet - blogs, online communities, commercial sites – as marketing tools.

Again from “Lost in the Blog” a thought provoking tidbit:
"Communicators and marketers are finding it harder to connect with their audiences at the same time as their audiences are finding it easier to connect with like-minded people," Mr. King said at the Healthcare Marketing & Communications Council’s (hmc-council.org) May Industry Forum.

According to Mr. King, online communities are providing an environment where word-of-mouth communication is thriving. Internet users are online looking for advice and recommendations, making like-minded individuals the key influencers. As a result, a mass audience has been replaced by a small but relevant audience as the key to marketing success. (emphasis added)
The PBN doesn’t just list blogs, it ranks them, and Incendia and the PBN have been endorsed by the number 1 ranked blogger on the PBN. According to the above quote, that is likely to have an impact on traffic to the PBN, and therefore on your advertiser's exposure via the PBN.

And that is, in my opinion, a much more plausible primary reason for the PBN’s existence. That does not preclude the possibility that it may also be a real and valued resource for PWP, but it is, as I said, disingenuous to say that the PBN’s primary raison d’etre is to provide a service to the community.

Premise #3
Ignite Health LLC, the nature of which entity you do not describe, rather than Ignite Health the healthcare advertising agency, owns Incendia Health Studios.

The following is a quote from an Ignite press release dated September 2006:
Ignite Health, one of the country's top 20 independent healthcare advertising agencies, has formed Incendia Health Studios.
It does not say Ignite Health LLC, and what is described is Ignite Health, the "healthcare advertising" agency.

Premise #4
The resources required to develop and maintain PBN are significant enough to require advertising dollars to keep it up and running.

To put this notion into context, I would point out that Ignite recently created an online game for Bayer that is intended to introduce Aleve to a new audience. This project, which had to be conceived of, written, scripted, cast, shot, architected, coded/built, and maintained, accounted for a mere 1% of Bayer's marketing budget – an amount that was characterized as “miniscule” by the New York Times article I read.

Now – no offense intended, but I could probably build a site like the PBN – it could not have cost a lot to build, and given that aside from the bare essentials (legal disclaimer, advisory board, etc) there is no content to generate, it could not cost a lot to maintain. Seems to me this site is virtually self-maintaining, aside from the basic tech support required by any site.

Premise #5

The advertiser took a big risk on PBN.

In what way? It couldn’t have been the cost, because the only costs I can see are those of creating two electronic ads and whatever they are paying you for the space, which could not cost more than a tiny fraction of what Bayer paid for the creation of the infinitely more costly and complex online game, and, as I pointed out elsewhere, the New York times characterized that cost as “miniscule.”

And unless you are suggesting that you did not do your due diligence and determine that the site was indeed likely to attract customers, the advertiser couldn’t have been taking much of a risk there, either.

So what, exactly, was the risk?

Premise #6
The advertiser took the risk because it was the “right thing to do.”

Are you saying that this pharmaceutical company is spending money - on advertising - on the PBN because supporting the PBN is the “right thing to do?” is that what you think guides companies’ advertising decisions?

Premise #7
The advertiser has no influence over the content of the site.

What content?

Premise #8
This particular pharmaceutical company is just the first advertiser – not intended to be the only advertiser going forward.

That may be.

However, it is interesting at this juncture to look at Incendia’s diabetesblognetwork.com. The same template was used in terms of web design as was used with the PBN (very economical). As with PBN, there are banner advertisements. On the Diabetes Blog Network, they lead www.yourdiabetesgoals.com, an interactive site bearing the image of a doctor, and asking the visitor to the site to indicate which of four diabetes goals offered is his or her diabetes goal.

When the visitor chooses a goal, s/he is offered the opportunity to click another link to find out about a treatment option that would appear to be recommended specifically to help one achieve the exact goal that had been chosen. The link takes the visitor to a site promoting the drug Symlin, a diabetes treatment made by Amylin.

There are two interesting twists to this treasure hunt. First, it doesn’t matter which of the four goals one chooses – they all lead to the same site.

Also interesting is the fact that the domain yourdiabetesgoals.com, which, as you recall, is the place with the reassuring doctor image and the interactive interface, is owned by Ignite Health.

But that shouldn’t be surprising. The domains parkinsonsblognetwork.com, diabetesblognetwork.com, breastcancerblognetwork.com, and bannermoments.com – each of whose sites are owned and operated by Incendia as an entity utterly separate from Ignite - are owned by Ignite Health, not Incendia.

In fact, Ignite owns nearly 40 disease-related ‘blognetwork’ domains. Mr. Gratton is the contact person listed for all of them.

Conclusion
To sum up, as I said, the creation of a blognetwork is not in and of itself a bad thing, and it may even be a useful service to the community. But it is disingenuous to say that providing that service is Incendia’s primary goal. You have simply created a vehicle for marketing, the beauty of which lies in the fact that it really could be useful to its audience - but that doesn't change the fact that the audience is a target market.

That is my opinion, anyway.



1 comment:

dena said...

You are right. Pharmaceutical marketing companies must be careful. Patients are wary, untrusting and suspicious seeking transparent messaging from the drug makers.