internet marketing 101: ibd and educational websites

(unrelated: 9/11 manhattan notes)

Every pharma company seems to sponsor an "educational website", for example, UCB, "a global biopharmaceutical leader", funds www.crohnsandme.com. This week I set out to find out why these sites exist. They don't offer any new information--often they regurgitate facts from the CCFA website. They link to sometimes inane "resources" such as the "New York City Bathroom Locator". In addition, since they are "educational" websites, pharma companies cannot advertise or mention their products. So why spend tens of thousands making a flashy looking, but informationally devoid website?

For an answer, I asked a friend's teenage cousin. Upon meeting, he gave me a withering, you-older-people-are-whacked look. I let it slide, I needed information. The following is a partial transcript of my meeting with "PJ":

PJ: Let's see one of these sites
me: Go to this one www.livingwithuc.com

PJ: OK. Now what?
me: Tell me why it exists.

[PJ spends 30 seconds clicking the mouse]

PJ: Marketing
me: But they cannot market products, it's for education.

PJ: See where it says "Sign up today"
me: Yes

PJ: They're collecting information. Demographics.
me: Are you sure?

PJ: Read the privacy policy. It's usually at the bottom of the page.
me: I'm reading . . .

PJ: They want to know their market. Sign up potential customers for their next product. If they want they can contact you directly: e-mail, regular mail, phone calls.
me: Is that legal?

PJ: Of course. If you sign up, you click some box full of legal clauses.
me: But this is marketing, how can it also be a tax-deductible education site?

PJ: You're twice as old as me. Am I going to have to tell you how the world works?
me: [no answer]

PJ: Let me show you something else. These sites pay big money to get people to go to them--they pay by the click.
me: How do you know that?

PJ: Look at this link. This is part of yahoo. Put in a keyword, it'll tell you how much people are willing to pay to click to their site.
me: Put in "ulcerative colitis"

PJ: Ha! Look at that, you're 'www.livingwithuc.com' site sponsors are at the top of the list! They pay $1.01 for every click to their site.
me: I don't understand.

PJ: If you put a 'www.livingwithuc.com' link on your website and I clicked on it--the livingwithuc.com people (UCB pharma) would pay you $1.01.
me: So does the CCFA get paid for these links on their site?

PJ: I don't know. They probably have some kind of special arrangement--they drive so much traffic. These linking arrangements are called "affiliate programs". Everyone uses them--especially for online retail. You know, online poker sites often pay a minimum of $100 for links--if the person clicks through and signs up to play.
me: How do you know that?

PJ: Hey, my mommy didn't buy me this computer
me: So you have a website?

PJ: Websites. Plural. I may never have to work.
me: Did you know two guys were recently arrested for linking to online poker sites?

PJ: Really.
me: Yeah. Yesterday. But that wouldn't effect you, would it?

PJ: oh . . . well, I'd better get going.
me: Thanks for your help.

PJ: no problem. . . well, I'd better go! I have something I forgot about! Good luck!