The Latest Healthcare/Pharma Online Advertising Trends

My ClickZ colleague Matt Kapko recently wrote an article citing how the pharma vertical is driving the increase in online ad spending, with a 45 percent increase in spend year-over-year. As I work for a healthcare-focused digital marketing company, this is obviously great news for us, and not all that surprising. Part of my role at my company involves participating in request for proposal (RFP) responses, and I have noticed a marked increase in the number of companies seeking new digital marketing partners, and online advertising expertise in particular.

Some of these companies perhaps do not already have a digital partner, or are finding that their needs are just not being met with their existing partner. Some of them explicitly call out in their request for us to address innovation in online advertising. They have done the basics, now they want to try what’s new, what’s different, what’s on the cutting edge.

So what are some of the new digital marketing opportunities for healthcare/pharma companies? What types of advancements are taking place in online media?

Here are five key trends that I’ve started to see in healthcare/pharma online advertising:

  1. Increased personalization/customization of ad messages. While dynamic ads (“smart ads”) have been around for some time in other verticals like retail, we see them as becoming more prevalent in the pharma space. Ads will be customized based on users’ behaviors observed both on advertiser-owned properties as well as publisher sites. Dynamic ads enable pharma advertisers to create multiple creative variations using a single ad template, which cuts down on the size and length of the regulatory review, while increasing marketing performance.
  2. Mobile becomes a basic. Pharma’s penetration into the mobile advertising space has been limited to date. With mobile beginning to exceed desktop use, mobile advertising (search and display) will soon become a standard element in digital media plans. Mobile-rich media ads will be prioritized over static/animated GIFs to fully embrace the possibilities of the mobile channel. Mobile advertising is becoming just as much a “no-brainer” as paid search or placing banner ads on condition-relevant destinations.
  3. “Safe” social functionality. Pharma companies have struggled to harness the power of social media given the concern with adverse events (AEs) being reported in online forums or networks. For this reason, they have adapted their approaches to find ways to engage in social in a low-risk way; for example, adding voting mechanisms or social-sharing features to websites. Online ads will begin to feature more of these social-sharing components that we see being widely integrated into websites. This functionality enables pharma companies to engage in social in a way that avoids regulatory implications of open discussions.
  4. Increased transparency and validation of ad placement. Vendors are rising to the challenge of increasing transparency of where, when, and how advertisers’ ads are showing, providing ever-improving technologies to validate this. In the pharma space in particular, it is important to undertake due diligence to avoid showing an ad next to editorial content that explicitly goes against the drug’s indication. These tools help provide that extra level of comfort for companies who are ever-wary of the possibility of receiving an FDA warning letter.
  5. Online video as a replacement, or to complement direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. TV advertising continues to be a mainstay in the pharma marketer’s toolkit. However, with the extra air time required to add in the mandatory safety language, pharma advertisers take a hit on TV media buying – unable to buy the shorter, cheaper spots. Unless you have a blockbuster product, cost can be prohibitive. With the rise of online video advertising and connected TV, more and more advertisers are running their commercial spots in the online space, for instance, via pre-roll placements when users are watching TV online through sites like Hulu. Advertisers are beginning to take advantage of the additional targeting available with online video that is not usually available with traditional DTC buys.

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