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EricGiguere.com > Essays > Vioxx Recall Leads to Worldwide Spam Reduction
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Vioxx Recall Leads To Worldwide Spam Reduction

Google short-term revenues may be impacted
by Eric Giguere
October 1, 2004

Pharmaceutical giant Merck's surprise withdrawal yesterday of its anti-arthritis drug Vioxx (also known as rofecoxib) caught more than just Wall Street by surprise. Although most media attention was focused on arthritis sufferers and other patients who were taking Vioxx for general pain relief, spammers — who prefer to call themselves "bulk email providers" — were dealing with their own anxiety issues.

"Vioxx is an important drug for us", says acknowledged spam king Pone Leray. "There are literally millions of people out there with arthritis and similar conditions who have been able to find relief using Vioxx. Now we can't market it to them anymore. We've had to temporarily suspend many of our mailings while we figure out how to best deal with the problem."

Indeed, reports from several spam monitoring organizations indicate that there's been a slight but noticeable reduction in spam worldwide due to the Vioxx recall.

Vioxx Was a Spam Star

Leray is emphatic in his praise for Vioxx: "To a bulk emailer like myself, Vioxx is the perfect drug. Look at the demographics. Its primary target is people with arthritis, mostly the elderly. Everyone loves old people and nobody wants to see them hurting! Plus it relieves other kinds of pain, too, so it really appeals to a large cross-section of the population."

For spammers, Vioxx has been a much easier sell than other drugs. "The thing with Vioxx," says Leray, "is that it's an easier sell than Viagra or other drugs for erectile dysfunction. Those drugs appeal primarily to men, so a lot of the mailings ended up going to the wrong people — you know, women and children. I don't know any man who likes to hear his wife or girlfriend say 'Honey, you should try Viagra' or, even worse, hear their child ask 'Daddy, what's Viagra?'. It's just not stuff you talk about. Vioxx, on the other hand, has none of that awkwardness associated with it. You can send it to everyone."

Google Revenues May Be Impacted

It's not just the spammers who may feel a short-term impact from the Vioxx recall. Other companies that depend heavily on advertising revenue, like Google, may also be affected.

"Google is a case in point," says industry analyst Ido Hawtknow, "because they make their money off the text ads they display on their search page. With fewer companies placing ads for Vioxx, they may feel a bit of a pinch."

Hawtknow says that it's too early to tell what kind of impact the recall will have, though. "On the other hand," he says, "Google's revenues might actually increase because now a lot of lawyers and consumer advocacy groups will start buying ads urging people to sue Merck. Lawyers are willing to pay a lot to find the right people to file for class action suits. This could actually be a short-term bonanza for Google."

Hawtknow's predictions seem to be true. Here's an example of the kind of ads Google is currently showing about the Vioxx recall:

Though most of the ads are now about finding alternative pain relief, most of the initial ads were from attorneys looking to file Vioxx lawsuits.

Spammers Will Recover

The long-term effects of the Vioxx recall are likely to be minimal for all but Merck. Spammers in particular will recover quickly.

"This is just a dip," says Leray. "We have to adjust our messages and our product mix, but I'm confident we'll find something just as good to push. After all, what are those Vioxx users going to do now? They're going to look for something else, something that better than the ibuprofen they were using before Vioxx came along. So there's our opportunity."

Has the recall made Leray anxious at all? "Not really. You have to expect these kinds of things in this business. Anti-spam laws, death threats, bad publicity — it's all part of the game."

"Besides, when I do get anxious," he continues, "I have the perfect solution. I just order myself some Prozac."

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