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Look Closely. Is Online Pharmaceutical Marketing & Advertising Really Increasing?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Slow-motion growth and "imminent" internet rules

Sometimes it’s tough to know who has the best crystal ball. When the final numbers are in for this year, US healthcare and pharmaceutical online advertising spending is expected to top $1 billion—up 10.6% from last year—according to a mid-year report from eMarketer, a respected analytics firm. This, they say, is “despite shifting regulatory hurdles and economic malaise.”

Now fast-forward to 2014. The expectation is for “…online ad spending in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, which includes DTC and over-the-counter remedies, [to] reach $1.52 billion. Despite robust annual growth rates through 2014, pharma's share accounts for only about 4% of overall US online ad spending.” At best, that would be gradual growth.

Not surprisingly, the report is titled: DTC Pharmaceutical Marketing Online: A Slow Shift to Digital. Report author Victoria Petrock puts it this way: "Though the marketing mix is slowly shifting toward digital tactics, DTC advertising will remain rooted in traditional media over the next several years."

She also suggests that “clearer guidelines from the FDA and new technology measurement tools will move more spending online.” By 2014, the "clearer guidelines" may still be somewhere over the horizon. The policy-watching publication FDA Week recently observed: “…rules on Internet communications were "imminent," and 15 years later industry is still waiting.” Now that's slow.

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