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
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
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."