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Merck Serono Dives in Social Media with an MS Film Contest

What better way to celebrate Canada Day than by focusing on a pharma social media campaign that seems to fit within all the Canadian regulatory guidelines, and presents the opportunity to thoroughly engage with patients; the Real MS Voices campaign by Merck Serono and Merck.

Earlier this week, I saw the following FaceBook ad on my personal FaceBook profile;

Although the font is very small and faint, you can spot the corporate names Merck Serono and Merck at the bottom of the ad.  When you click on the ad, you are brought to the new online MS community, Real MS Voices, developed by Merck Serono and Merck.  The objective of the site is to encourage MS patients to submit video entries as part of a contest.  This is a global campaign that was launched on May 26 2010, yet it appears that most of the activity on the various platforms actually got started later in June 2010.

It is a global campaign, however the site is not intended for use by residents of the US or the UK. UK residents are encouraged to get involved with Real MS by visiting the UK site, whereas US residents are suggested to visit the EMD Serono site to find out more about life with MS.  No restrictions are mentioned for Canadian site visitors.

Registering for the site is simple and takes a few seconds only.  Since anybody can sign up, this site would be considered ‘open’ to the public, or non-gated from a regulatory perspective.

The site boasts several social media platforms where MS patients can engage with Real MS Voices; an online community, RSS feed, Twitter, FaceBook and a blog (comments are encouraged on the blog).  The video contest will also include some social media component as people will be voting for their favorites online.  I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but the YouTube link to Real MS Voices is missing on the homepage of the site, yet it is listed on the FaceBook ‘Info’ tab.

Online community rules:

The host organization was very wise to allow members to write comments, yet there are community rules that need to be followed.  These are listed on the website and are repeated on the other social media platforms (FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube) as well.  Here are a few conditions that are important for regulatory purposes:

  • “Our message boards are moderated on a regular basis.  We will remove inappropriate posts that do not follow our rules for postings on message boards.”
  • “MESSAGES WHICH PROMOTE OR DISCUSS ANY MS THERAPY ARE PROHIBITED: we all have opinions about MS treatments. However, if the posts are misleading, misinformed, become solicitations, aggressive, or hurtful to others, they will be removed and the member will be contacted to discuss proper guidelines and possible consequences.   Messages containing names (either brand or generic) of current MS therapies are prohibited and will be removed from the messaging board.”
  • “This site does not give medical advice, nor does it provide medical or diagnostic services. Your reliance upon content obtained by you at or through the site is solely at your own risk.”

In fact, even the video contest entry details state that “Entries containing names (either brand or generic) of current MS therapies or drugs in development will not be considered for the Competition or posted on the Real MS website“.

See the FaceBook screenshot below which highlights the community rules.  All community settings also mention that Donna Sullivan is the person behind the community posts.  She is an independent Community Manager, financially supported by Merck Serono S.A. – Geneva, owner of Real MS:

The campaign is brand new, so there are very few members at the moment.  I expect that as awareness of the Real MS Voices campaign grows, so will the level of engagement.  The startup for the campaign is a bit slow so far, but it truly is just the beginning.  The 1st FaceBook post and the 1st Twitter tweet took place on June 25th.  The following are a few screenshots from the FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube profiles to show the level of activity thus far;

So how does Canada fit in?

Canada has a high rate of MS.  The 2008 Atlas of Multiple Sclerosis suggests that MS strikes as many as 240 out of every 100,000 people in Canada.  With so many people affected by this disease, whether they have MS or know somebody with MS, online communities may provide a unique opportunity for people affected with MS to connect with one another.  Here is an article that highlights some benefits and tips for those who have MS and may be interested in online networking.

Allison Zavitz, Marketing Manager, Neurodegenerative Diseases at EMD Serono Canada Inc., confirmed that the Canadian affiliate is taking a passive role in the Real MS Voices program.  While Canadians are allowed to submit and vote on video entries as well as engage with Real MS Voices in the various social media platforms, the campaign is being administered by the global head office.  Allison also confirmed that the Canadian affiliates are not promoting the social network to physicians, nor were they responsible for the FaceBook ad that I saw on my FaceBook profile.  Therefore, she believes that the global team must have set up the FaceBook ads.  Since FaceBook ads can be targeted by geography, this suggests that at least one of the FaceBook ads was set up specifically for Canada.

As far as I can tell, the Real MS Voices campaign is completely within the Canadian pharmaceutical regulatory guidelines.  For more details on how social media fits within the Canadian regulatory guidelines, see Highlights from “Social Media Marketing in Pharma: What Works in Canada”

I look forward to seeing a lot of entries from Canadian MS patients, and hopefully a Canadian winner will be announced as well.

Happy Canada Day,

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The 1st Canadian Pharma Ad on FaceBook?

A brave Canadian pharmaceutical company has taken the plunge and is giving FaceBook direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising a try. King Pharmaceuticals has been promoting its EpiPen.ca website via the following English and French FaceBook ads:

The call-to-action is to take the allergy risk test, but it appears as though the main objective of the site itself is to introduce the new EpiPen and EpiPen Jr (0.3 and 0.15 mg epinephrine) Auto-injectors (“EpiPen”) to Canadian consumers and healthcare professionals.  Both the FaceBook ads and the site are DTC advertising.

Although King Pharmaceuticals launched the new EpiPen and EpiPen Jr Auto-Injectors on April 14 2010, I first noticed the FaceBook ad on Monday May 10th 2010.  Of course, it is possible that the ad was launched sooner and that it just came to my attention later.

Can a prescription Rx brand copy this social media model?

EpiPen falls under “ethical pharmaceuticals” in the regulatory system.  However, it is not a schedule F product (prescription required for sale).  Therefore, section c01.044 of Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations Act (which limits pharmaceutical DTC advertising to only product name, price, quantity) does not apply.  To promote a prescription product (Schedule F) in a FaceBook ad (DTC), only the product name, price and quantity would be allowable because it is a public direct-to-consumer placement.  Since the PAAB approves campaigns as a whole, this would also apply to any website that the FaceBook ad would link to.  For more information about Canadian regulatory requirements for prescription products promoted in social media, see Highlights from “Social Media Marketing in Pharma: What Works in Canada” or contact Patrick Massad at the PAAB.  If you are interested in learning more about Canadian regulatory guidelines for other types of healthcare products, you might like this article.

Is this the first Canadian pharma ad on FaceBook?

As far as the ads that I have seen on my personal FaceBook profile, this is the first one that I have seen from a Canadian pharmaceutical company.  There may have been others.  I might have missed them, or perhaps I was not part of the target market for the ad.  So unless somebody tells me otherwise, I do believe that this is the very first branded FaceBook ad by a Canadian pharmaceutical company.  In fact, I have not seen an unbranded FaceBook ad by any Canadian pharma companies.  I you know of others, then please share in the comments section.

Is the FaceBook ad driving traffic to the EpiPen.ca website?

Since the EpiPen FaceBook ad seems to have the objective of driving unique visitor traffic to the EpiPen.ca website, it is reasonable to track traffic to the site as an ROI measurement.  As an outsider, I will use data from Alexa and Compete. The following data and snapshot were taken on May 12 2010:

  • Alexa traffic rank as of May 12 2010 is 1,562,812
  • Alexa traffic rank in Canada is 27,244.
  • 1,177 monthly unique visitors to the website in February 2010.

In a few months, I’ll take another look at the data from these two sources to see if the website gets a peak in their traffic.  This could create some interesting discussion.  Stay tuned !!

Congratulations to King Pharmaceuticals for taking this innovative step.

Stay in touch,

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Big Canadian Pharma Hoping to Make Video go ‘Viral’

Many Canadian companies donate to charitable organizations.  They write a cheque, have a press release with a photo of key people from both organizations holding a mega-sized cheque, and oftentimes the promotion fizzles from that point on.

Pfizer Canada Inc. is taking a unique approach in ensuring that its sponsorship of Canada’s Paralympics Team gets noticed by Canadians, all while promoting their MoreThanMedication.ca website.  Last week, Pfizer Canada posted a video honouring Canada’s Paralympics Team on their MoreThanMedication.ca website, which features the strength and passion of Team Canada sledge hockey player Todd Nicholson.

The objective is to make the video go ‘viral’ and get viewed by as many Canadians as possible in order to raise awareness about the Paralympics taking place in Vancouver, and the determination and passion of the Paralympics athletes.  Viewers of the video are encouraged to share it with their friends and networks either via FaceBook, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, or even by e-mail.  Everytime they do so, Pfizer donates $5.00 (Cdn) to the Canadian Paralympics Team, up to a maximum of $50,000 (Cdn).

Here is the statement that automatically appeared on my Twitter and FaceBook accounts when I clicked on the share button.  Notice that there is no mention of Pfizer or of the $5 donation.  Personally, I believe a mention of the donation by Pfizer would have peaked more people’s interest and would have increased the number of views;

I also saved the video on Delicious and gave it the thumbs up on Digg, but so far it appears that only two people have done so on these particular networks.

In order to reach its goal of $50,000, the video needs to be shared 10,000 times.   By early Monday morning, March 14th, approximately an entire week after having launched the video, the digital counter on the MoreThanMedication.ca website showed that Pfizer had raised a total of $20,400 via the sharing of the video so far, which equates to 4,080 views.

Note that this is the number of views, not the number of unique viewers.  For example, I shared the video via all 5 methods that were made available (Twitter, FaceBook, Delicious, Digg and e-mail), which counts as 5 views.  But one also needs to consider that it is possible that more people viewed the video and shared it and that these ‘shares’ did not get counted for the donation. For example, if somebody shared the video by retweeting or copying and pasting the statement into their profiles without going directly through the MoreThanMedication.ca website, these ‘shares’ would not be counted.  This is because Pfizer is monitoring the number of ‘shares’ via their internal web analytics.

Although the campaign is meant to raise awareness within the Canadian population, viewers from other countries are not prevented from sharing the video and contributing to the donation per view.

After the campaign is completed, it would be interesting to get a breakdown of the percentage of viewers who shared the video link via e-mail, FaceBook, Twitter, Digg and Delicious.  My guess is that e-mail and FaceBook will be the two predominant methods of sharing of the video.  Here are some statistics to support my rationale;

1) Despite the fact that the share of Canadian Internet visits surpassed e-mail in April 2009 (HitWise, May 2009, chart below), e-mail is still ranked in 4th position.

2) The most popular social network with Canadians is FaceBook.  Canadians have low awareness of Digg and Delicious, and appear to minimally use these social bookmarking networks (CNW Group and Leger Marketing, Social Media Reality Check, April 2009, chart below).

What about YouTube?

So far, I have been unsuccessful in finding the Paralympics video by Pfizer on YouTube.  It would have been interesting to see how many views the video could have had via YouTube, especially considering that YouTube is the 2nd most used social network by Canadians according to the CNW Group and Leger Marketing study.  My gut tells me that this medium was intentionally not included because Pfizer Canada wants Canadians to visit the MoreThanMedication.ca website, and posting the video on YouTube may have diluted this particular objective.  However, I do believe that the video would have more viral ability if it were made available on a Pfizer Canada channel on YouTube.  What are your thoughts on this?

A purely Canadian initiative:

Pfizer Canada’s MoreThanMedication.ca website is a purely Canadian campaign, as is the video honouring Canada’s Paralympics Team.

Canadian regulatory guidelines:

The campaign appears to be fully within the Canadian regulatory guidelines as there do not appear to be any product mentions on either the website or the videos.

Pfizer Canada has tested social media before:

Some of you may recall that Pfizer tested the social media environment last year with their “Be Brave” campaign.  This was another campaign devised to raise funds for another charitable organization, Starlight Children’s Foundation.  The only sharing option at the time appears to have been e-mail. According to the information that I found on their MoreThanMedication.ca website, it appears as though they reached their objective of raising $50,000 via the sharing of this particular video.

Search “Be Brave Pfizer” in YouTube, and you will find that the “Be Brave” video that was posted on the CNW Group channel garned 22,230 views over the past year, which ranks it as the 2nd most watched YouTube video on the CNW Group channel.


Many thanks to Veronica Piacek, Director Consumer Communications & Relations at Pfizer Canada, for taking the time to share her insights with me regarding this Pfizer social media campaign.

Congratulations to the Pfizer Canada team, and their suppliers who have assisted them with the video in honour of the Canadian Paralympics Team;  Klick Communications (morethanmedication.ca website), Zig Toronto (video creation) and Strategic Objectives (PR agency).  And most of all, best wishes in making the Canada’s Paralympics Team video a viral success and raising $50,000.


What do you think of this Canadian pharma social media example?  What would you do the same, what would you do differently?  There is no judgement here, it is just a discussion so that we can learn from one another.

Stay in touch,

Connect with me on the following networks:
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