Pharma gets by with help from your friends

When you're feeling weird and your health's no good, who're you gonna call? Big Pharma? For increasing numbers of patients, the answer to that question is "my friends." So Big Pharma is taking advantage of that fact, tailoring advertising and Internet action so that prospective consumers hear from real people that their drugs do work.

It's a natural move, given the surveys that show public distrust of corporations in general and Big Pharma in particular. All that bad publicity about off-label marketing settlements and drug withdrawals has taken its toll. But drugmakers know that their products do work; they just have to get someone besides themselves to say so, one marketing expert tells the New York Times.

So, drugmakers are using more testimonials from patients, such as a recent ad campaign for Pfizer's stop-smoking drug Chantix, plus other ads from GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis. Ads for eight of the 50 best-selling drugs now feature real users talking about their experiences with the medications, rather than using anonymous voice-overs or celebrity endorsements, the Times reports.

Pfizer found some of its ad testimonials in thank-you notes patients had written to the company. Drugmakers are also lurking in Internet chat rooms and on message boards to see what folks are saying about their products, so they can better tailor their ads. Have you seen pharma work in other ways to take advantage of peer influence?

- see the Times piece