Corrections or additions?

This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the January 23, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Website Review: WelChol.com

U.S. 1 Newspaper does not often do articles on

companies

or products or people that win awards — we know from our own

industry

that simply entering a contest is often the most important

prerequisite

to winning.

So when a press release arrived from Newton Interactive of 2425

Pennington

Road, heralding an award-winning website it had designed for an

anti-cholesterol

drug, we expected the news to be no news. But our boss took an

inexplicable

interest in it. "What’s the matter," we asked,

"cholesterol

problems?"

"Not exactly," he replied. "My last blood test showed

156."

But we knew that cholesterol has two components, the good one (HDL)

and the bad one (LDL), and that together they shouldn’t be over 200

or 230 at the most. "So which one was 156?" we asked.

"Neither," was the reply. "That was the total." Still

the boss insisted on having this website reviewed. So we asked a U.S.

1 correspondent, Bart Jackson, to take the cyber-tour of

www.WelChol.com Jackson filed this report:

In an era when advertising often is disguised as editorial,

consumers have a right to be skeptical. We are all indeed leery of

having our objective editorial streams of information tainted by the

hidden persuadings of marketers. We feel manipulated. On the other

hand, Debra Newton, founder of Newton Interactive, feels that

when specific products provide valuable information and possible

solutions

to serious problems, this is information worth having.

In September, 2000, Sankyo Pharmaceuticals and its commercial partner,

Gel Tex, released WelChol, a new cholesterol-lowering drug. It had,

the producers believed, a definite effectiveness edge over competitive

statin drugs, such as Zocor, because it does its work in the stomach

and intestines, and does not carry side effects to the liver. With

50 percent of Americans showing high HDL cholesterol levels and 28

percent of those eligible for medication, the challenge was to impart

this complex product information to a broad base of both consumers

and health care professionals.

Sankyo chose Newton Interactive to solve this problem. Founded in

1991, Newton has designed sites for Bayer, Bristol-Meyers-Squibb,

Pfizer, and a host of other pharmaceuticals. Originally from Ohio,

Newton has knowledge of both marketing and the pharmaceutical

industry.

She attended St. Mary’s College in San Francisco, "about a decade

behind my fellows," she says, and earned a bachelor’s in business

administration. Afterwards, she became marketing manager for Wallace

Labs, where she saw the possibilities in web marketing.

Her 50-person firm specializes in work for medical and pharmaceutical

clients.

Newton Interactive produced www.WelChol.com under Sankyo’s

direction.

It is a product website — an infomercial, if you will — but

it is also a valuable resource tool for the 100 million Americans

concerned about high cholesterol levels. Like other successful sites

promoting prescription drugs, WelChol capitalizes on people’s desire

to learn about the entire disease, not just the drug.

In a colorful, interesting site, WelChol does just that.

Any major search engine brings you to its home page, affording you

two options. The "Professional Site," reserved for medical

doctors and other health workers, requires a password, which the

company

will provide upon application. Clicking on the "Consumer Site"

takes you instantly to a wealth of sharply categorized, readable

information.

No flashing ads, thank heaven.

The site reads like a newspaper. Centering around some rather benign

graphics, small topic headlines invite you into specific categories.

You may go straight to the Welchol product information, learn what

this drug — colesevelam HCI — actually does, or you may review

a broad and neatly packaged body of information about cholesterol,

heart disease, and prevention. The tone is straight forward, yet not

didactic. You are enticed into a virtual fireside for a virtual chat.

At the end of 2001, Newton Interactive received a Healthcare

Leadership

Gold Award for presenting the best overall website in a pharmaceutical

category. The site scored high marks for content, interactivity and

medical care support. But probably what this computer Luddite

appreciated

most was WelChol’s amazingly easy navigation. Every one of the

categories

is broken down into swiftly accessed features. Each can be quickly

escaped, with a host of options, not just to go back, but to link

onto to any other part of the site. Almost no segment of the site

is more than two clicks away, as opposed to the frustrating

cyber-labyrinths

that snarl many websites.

Following down the major listings you are led smoothly into the

product

and its use, making you well informed and capable of judging WelChol

by the time you get there. Under the broad headline of Cholesterol

Control, one is offered a full definition of HDL, LDL, their benefits,

proper levels, problems, and risk factors. Thus armed, you can click

down to the logical next steps: What is WelChol? How does WelChol

Work? and Is it Right for Me?

Among these, the reader is given the closest thing to a real ad. A

comparative difference between the typical statin cholesterol-lowering

medication is explained. Unlike the statins, which enter the blood

stream and thus may entail certain side effects, WelChol (colesevelam

HCI) stays in the intestinal tract, binding itself to HDL-laden bile,

and passes both self and bile through the system. The benefits are

deemed obvious and no space is spent on laborious testimonies from

high ranking doctors. Here are the facts, you can choose for yourself,

is the attitude.

Those not interested in the product may skip on to the concisely

written

"Managing Your Cholesterol" segment, which discusses exercise

and nutrition needs, actual recommended levels, sample menus, foods,

and even comparative gender risks. (One in three women versus one

in two men will suffer heart disease.)

Simple charts discuss and elaborate on various food groups. Even a

moderately health conscious individual might learn something. Given

the recent headlines about the deleterious effects of milk, some might

assume that dairy products should just be avoided in the fight against

cholesterol. But this website reports that three servings a day are

necessary, and that for those over 50 four servings a day are ideal.

The trick, of course, is that the servings should be low fat and low

cholesterol versions of what most Americans consume.

A few snippets of information begged questions that

were never answered. The website notes that people should limit

themselves

to foods with two grams or less of saturated fats. Then it notes that

olives and avocados are counted as mono-unsaturated fats. So are these

foods good, bad, or somewhere in between?

On the whole, however, the writing is unambiguous and easy to read.

Most items are held to a single page of about 250 words each.

Multi-page

pieces are broken into easy spacings, with options to "learn

more"

or not.

While the gloom-and-doom business of cholesterol does not lend itself

to a fun Web page, Newton Interactive’s authors keep the reader

intrigued.

Such sidebars as "Apple Tips" recommend shoppers seek out

cheeses with three grams of fat and never more than five. It suggests

that, when ordering a pizza, you restrain yourself to a tomato pie.

(Cheeseless pizza may seem like the transformation of Bordeaux into

water, but ours is a cautious age.)

Interaction is also encouraged. A voting poll allows you to help with

a survey of, for example, how many times weekly you eat processed

meats. Three different daily menus are presented, to help a

cholesterol-watching

dieter envision the range of food possibilities. The "Questions

to Ask Your Doctor" list flashes on your screen and takes only

a button to print out. Clever.

It was a little distressing to find that clicking on "Product

Information" leads to the necessary downloading of Adobe Acrobat

Reader (something which my computer refused to do.) However, I’m sure

I did not miss anything. Much of the information is deliberately

redundant

on this site, to make sure that essentials are encountered no matter

what pattern of browsing the individual searcher uses.

Compared with the American Heart Association’s website,

www.AmericanHeart.org,

WelChol provides less total information, but more easily accessible

links. The AHA site provides an excellent glossary, many comparative

details of drugs, foods, and blood levels, but you are frequently

sent to another site to dig them out. On both sites, the Internet’s

specter of unedited unreliability is no problem. The information is

accurate because the FDA oversees all pharmaceutical advertising,

and the WelChol site is held to the same strict guidelines as drug

ads in any other media.

There may never come a time when the hard fist of the advertiser is

accepted into the fine glove of editorial content. And perhaps we

are right to keep our suspicions. But by whatever category you care

to label it, Newton Interactive’s WelChol site imparts some vital

and honest information, and it is refreshing to find a little of that.

— Bart Jackson

So why then Richard K. Rein’s sudden interest in

heart-related

subjects? The answer lies in that three-day stretch the other week

when he was suddenly absent from the office. An early morning trip

to the medical center for a test that was part of his annual physical

turned into a three-day stay, with an angioplasty and a stent inserted

to clear up a 90 percent blockage of the left anterior descending

artery — the "widow-maker."

So, while a 156 cholesterol total may be "good" for most

people,

it wasn’t good enough for Rein. In addition, and a postscript that

ought to be added to any discussion of cholesterol and your health,

cholesterol is merely one factor contributing to heart disease. Others

are smoking (not Rein), being overweight (not too bad there, either),

lack of exercise (hmmm), and stressful lifestyle (17 years of long

hours, incessant deadlines, and few vacations!)

But that’s another story. We’ll give the boss a deadline and word

limit and see if he can deliver.


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