NEW YORK: Pharma companies including Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Astra Zeneca are increasingly moving to adopt online communications tools such as YouTube and Twitter as part of their broader direct-to-consumer advertising strategies in the US.

Over the course of last year, pharmaceutical firms increased their online adspend by 36% to $137 million (€110.6m; £90.3m), compared with an overall decline in marketing outlay of 10.6%, to $4.7 billion across the category as a whole. 

Among the more traditional online strategies adopted by major players in the sector are Johnson & Johnson's corporate blog, which has been well-received by consumers and industry commentators, as discussed in more detail here.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Sanofi-Aventis are among the corporations using branded channels on the Google-owned video-sharing website YouTube in order to communicate directly with consumers.

GlaxoSmithKline also launched its own branded YouTube channel – GSKvision – last year, and was one of the first pharma firms to move into digital, with a viral video for Restless Legs Syndrome.

Similarly, AstraZeneca has an official presence on both Twitter and YouTube, and has used the latter in a variety of different ways.

These include countering negative claims regarding the safety of its brands Prilosec and Nexium, and encouraging web users to submit video discussing the positive effects of its asthma medication Symbicort.

The company spent eight months developing the YouTube channel in order to ensure that it fell within the Food and Drug Administration's guidelines.

Dana Settembrino, senior brand communications manager for Symbicort, argued social media is still "very much a grey area" for pharma brands.

However, she added that having "a presence in this space allows us to reach these patients and provide education in the format that they're looking for."


Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by WARC staff