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Yahoo!'s Rx for Ad Dollars

Yahoo! Monday pumped new blood into its health channel with a new look, new services and a new marketing campaign that focuses on pharmaceutical companies.

Not since the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based media company launched the Yahoo! Health portal during the beginning of the dot-com frenzy has there been such an overhaul of features and partnerships.

New to Yahoo! Health are eight new specific Yahoo! Health Centers, a health encyclopedia, a drug index, an "Ask the Doctor" feature, health assessment tests, a "Find a Doctor" feature, health news and information on clinical trials.

The specialized centers focus on maladies such as Asthma and Allergy, Breast Cancer, Arthritis and Pain, Heart Conditions, Cholesterol, Osteoporosis, Smoking Cessation and Diabetes.

Yahoo! said it plans on coordinating the specific health centers with certain yearly events - October's Breast Cancer Awareness month, for example. For this year's campaign, the company is in the process of collecting personal stories from celebrities who have battled the disease such as Suzanne Somers, Peggy Fleming and Barbara Streisand.

And while the content on Yahoo! Health has been fair in the past with advice from famous M.D.s like Dr. Andrew Weil, new content will come from third parties including: ISL, adam.com, Acurian, Health Scout, Health On the Net Foundation, the American Cancer Society, Healthology, YourMedicalSource.com, Physicians Desk Reference and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There is a really good need for health information," said Tina Pang Mayer, director of Yahoo! Health. "When you look at the different condition centers that we have... by putting all of this together, we feel that people can get the information that they need."

The changes at Yahoo! Health are but a small piece of a yearlong Yahoo! makeover. Last week, the company launched its product catalog Yahoo! Shopping Tech Center. The company has also embarked on a new premium gaming service as well as revamping its home page and teaming with SBC to become a high-speed Internet service provider.

But with so many health sites out there, why the transfusion for Yahoo! Health?

Well, for starters, health is a hot commodity. Last year's Kaiser Family Foundation funded survey, "Generation Rx.com", found that 68 percent of young people have used the Internet to search for health information, and one in four said they get "a lot" of health information online. The survey also suggested that a significant proportion of youth are acting on what they find.

And where do people go first to answer their health queries on the Web? A study sponsored last April by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found 65 percent of patients usually start with general search engines such as Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, and Alta Vista. Only 24 percent make health portals such as WebMD and InteliHealth their first stop; a mere 11 percent start with disease-specific Web sites such as Oncology.com or MSWatch.

"Over the last few years there has been such a jump in the amount of brand-name drugs on the market," said Pang Mayer. "This is sparked by direct consumer marketing. Drugs like Claritin really put all of this forward. How we see it is that the owness goes back to the patient and to do that you have to get more in depth with your content."

Pang Mayer says Yahoo! is giving it's Health channel as much attention as any of the other areas within the portal.

But why stop there? Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel's pledge this year to find an alternative revenue stream beyond banner ads is turning into a company-wide crusade. Yahoo! said it will rely heavily on sponsorships and marketing partnerships by major pharmaceutical companies to keep the revitalized health portal from flat lining.

One of those pharmaceutical companies is Aventis, which makes drugs that help fight osteoporosis.

"Sponsoring the Osteoporosis Health Center on Yahoo! Health provided us with a new way to reach a highly qualified audience, with little to no media waste," said Sona Saxena, Internet marketing specialist for Aventis. "Because Yahoo! reaches more than half of all consumers with osteoporosis, sponsoring the Osteoporosis Health Center gives us an optimal vehicle to reach qualified consumers with a marketing message."

Yahoo! said the ads will target a fairly broad audience on the Yahoo! Health entry with only marginal targeting being allowed for each of the specialized centers. The company also said it will not allow for un-authorized user profiles to be used by the pharmaceutical companies.

We're building this with our users and our advertisers in mind," said Yahoo! vice president and general manager of Media Entertainment Dave Mandelbrot. "Part of the story is that the major pharmaceuticals are adopting this medium as a part of introducing their new drugs."

Mandelbrot says there will be even more cross-promotional campaigning to come to Yahoo! Health across the network. The company has moved the link above the fold on its main page and even unrelated areas like Yahoo! Games will feature promotional opportunities to link up to health questions.

And while Yahoo! Health is currently free, the company said it is working on making some parts only available as part of a fee or subscription basis.

Not a bad plan considering Nielsen//NetRatings' May 2002 growth chart for Online Advertising Impressions ranked Health in the No. 8 position behind hot areas like Retail Goods & Services and Financial Services. While most sectors were barely breathing, Health-related sites had their largest jump in ad impressions - 221 percent between May 2001 and 2002 - making it a 3.5 billion per year online industry.