Hypno-promo’s a no-go on the social web

On the 21st April, the FDA issued a warning letter to Novartis regarding http://www.gistalliance.com and http://www.cmlalliance.com (currently down) conveying their opinion that the sites represented branded promotional material for Gleevec (imatinib mesylate).

During today’s #hcsmeu event, Dominic Tyer made an astute observation regarding one of the points in the paragraph entitled ‘misleading product claim websites’ wherein the FDA states that:

The websites are perceptually similar to the Novartis Gleevec product website, incorporating similar color schemes (including a distinct orange), design layouts and other presentation elements

If a disinterested observer considers the conclusion that the FDA reached regarding the claimed perceptual similarity between the sponsored websites and branded promotional material to be valid, it does beg the question: what kind of stunt is being pulled here?

Is a desire on pharma’s part to camouflage rather than abandon its promotional activities hereby disclosed?

If so, a fundamental misunderstanding within the industry of the nature of the dynamics of such environments is revealed.

It is a category error to perceive the social web to be a haven for the promotion of product rather than the promotion of conversation.

The social web belongs to info, to convo, but never to promo. Those pharma campaigns that endeavour to hypnotize their audiences through their utilization of supra-subtle echoes of or allusions to their existing brand semiotics truly deserve to be called out as what John Mack has immortalized in another context as sleazy spam. Conversely, those that renounce such dubious methods will be commensurately rewarded with positive brand-trust reinforcement.

It is to be hoped that the industry will regard such salutory warnings as a spur to hastening on the migration of their activities within the social web from the offering of tricksy hybrid promotions that benefit nobody towards finding ways to filter clean, clear information to clinicians and patients.

In so doing, the industry will bolster trust with key stakeholders, broaden, deepen and strengthen its engagement with them, manifest a real commitment to decoupling itself from the promotional economy and securing itself to the relational, conversational economy, and credential itself as a concern that embodies a commitment to supporting the communities it claims to want to sustain.


2 thoughts on “Hypno-promo’s a no-go on the social web

  1. Hi Andrew

    completely agree on the need for transparancy, but you also know my nag to play the devil’s advocate.

    So I just wonder, if is wasn’t exactly in the spirit of transparance that Novartis chose Glivec’s colors for the site. I do not think, it was ever Novartis intent to hide the fact that CMLalliance was owned by them as well as the direct link to its brand: Novartis logo was clearly displayed, links were made to Glivec website, and yes, the site was in the same colors than the brand Novartis represents in this disease area.

    So here is the delphi oracle’s question: would the site have displayed different colors from the Glivec brand, would we be making the case now that this was misleading, ie. intentionally trying to trick patients into thinking this information was independent, when in fact it was not…

    • Hi Silja

      You raise a provocative point, and a good one.

      However, what you offer here is a terrific defence for something that – properly presented – should not have required justification in the first place.

      If we claim these sites to have adorned themselves in colours redolent of the Gleevec brand and thereby to have signified Novartis’ support ‘in the spirit of transparency’, then such an enterprise must be condemned as an abject failure on the basis that it has taken an FDA letter and the scrutiny of industry observers to disclose it.

      Would it not have been easier just to find a clear, upfront, approvable way of stating the fact that Novartis was supporting these sites rather than relying on such scarcely perceptible stratagems?

      For me, ‘transparency’ connotes that which is forthrightly stated and clearly discernible. That which alludes may often elude, and I’d suggest (if we’re giving Novartis the benefit of the doubt) that this is exactly what happened here.

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