MediaRadar Blog

Are Pharma Brands Ready to Embrace Digital Advertising?

Are Pharma Brands Ready to Embrace Digital Advertising?

Many historians believe Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy to be the oldest apothecary in the world, dating back to 1221. The pharmaceutical industry has changed significantly since then, but some parts of it have gone largely untouched, marketing strategies among them. 

Despite digital advertising’s dominance across industries, pharmaceutical advertisers have overwhelmingly stuck to their traditional roots (pun totally intended). 

But did the acceleration of digital healthcare during the pandemic finally push them into the future? Sort of. 

MediaRadar Blog Signup

The Rise of Digital Healthcare Pushes Pharma Advertisers Into the Future

The pharmaceutical industry had no choice but to switch things up when the pandemic took hold many moons ago.

Pharma advertisers didn’t have a choice, either. The healthcare world took the leap into digital and healthcare professionals (HCPs) bid farewell to in-person meetings with sales reps.

That farewell parade will continue, with about 20% of B2B buyers, including those in traditionally dominated industries like pharma, saying they have no intention of returning to in-person sales engagements.

With most HCPs making it clear that digital interactions with pharma companies are here to stay—only 20% of B2B buyers want to return to in-person meetings—pharma advertisers need to find another way to connect. 

Enter video and social media.

The opportunity (and appeal) of video ads

In 2022, advertisers for 572 pharma brands spent just under $1.5b on video ads; a handful of them (74) invested only in the format, including Entyvio (Millennium Pharmaceuticals), Gardasil 9 (Merck & Co), Prevnar 20 (Pfizer), Epclusa (Gilead Sciences), and Cibinqo (Pfizer). 

For advertisers at Pfizer, the video-exclusive strategy to promote Cibinqo came in tandem with the FDA’s approval of the drug, but also the continued expansion of every part of the video universe. 

In 2021, digital video advertising spending was estimated at more than $55b and projected to increase to $78.5b by the end of 2023.

If pharma advertisers are to invest in digital, tried-and-true video formats—think in-stream and in-feed ads—will be the beneficiary. 

Emerging ecosystems, however, like OTT and CTV, are catching their eyes, too, especially given streaming’s now mainstream status. 

In fact, eMarketer predicted that almost 2b people would subscribe to OTT platforms last year—and not just one of them. The average household used almost 7 streaming services in March 2022.

It’s easy to see what’s pulling pharma advertisers through the doors of OTT and CTV, too.
According to a 2022 survey, 39% of respondents cited the extended reach for linear TV campaigns as a CTV and OTT advertising.

With the entirety of the streaming world all-in on ads, including Netflix, pharma advertisers will continue to see OTT and CTV ads as a seamless, natural, and brand-safe extension of their existing TV strategies. 

Pharma advertisers harness the power of people 

Social media in healthcare isn’t new. In fact, 41% of respondents to a 2012 study said the information they found on social media influenced how they coped with a chronic condition, approached diet and exercise, and chose a hospital or physician

The pandemic only engrained social media into healthcare and pharma even more, with a more recent study finding that 76% of people use social media after a doctor’s visit to ask others about their experiences with medication, conditions, and diagnoses.

But pharma advertisers aren’t just throwing social media ads blindly across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and other major platforms. 

They’re tapping into the power influencer marketing. 

Historically tied to B2C brands, influencer marketing has been spreading its wings and offering its powers to advertisers in other industries, including pharma.

For the first time, pharma advertisers are opening their eyes to the benefits of influencer marketing and its sway over younger generations who’ve made it clear that influencers are their jam—even for health-related advice

A further study drilled this point home. 

According to WEGO Health, 51% of patients “mostly” or “completely” trust patient health influencers, while 85% said they’d be “somewhat” or “very receptive” to an ad from a patient influencer promoting a drug related to the patient’s condition. 

As social networks roll out the red carpet for influencers and creators—Instagram recently extended access to parts of its creator marketplace via API—it’s hard to imagine a world in which pharma advertisers don’t continue harnessing the power of people.

Old-school Pharma Ads Still Work

Despite the rise of digital health and a slow-but-steady embrace of advertising, most pharma advertising dollars are still dedicated to traditional formats.

In 2022, more than 65% of pharma ad spend went to broadcast and cable ads, while another 9% went to magazines. 

Why? Two reasons:

While digital formats offer an appealing option and will continue to be a magnet for pharma ad dollars, traditional formats still work and they’ll only grow stronger as the lines between them and digital ads merge—think Coinbase’s Super Bowl ads and programmatic TV advertising.

Blending the Old and New

Nick Cowling, Head of Performance at marketing agency Three Whiskey, suggests that “brands [will] continue to evolve their understanding of what omnichannel means in the pharma world.”

“For most, in reality, this means embracing a hybrid model of multi or omnichannel marketing that makes the most of what’s possible now, while building towards a better future that takes advantage of the increased volume of healthcare data available,” he explained. “This is also thanks to ubiquitous industry digitalization and integrating privacy-preserving technology solutions to serve for a cookie-less future.”

In 2023, that’ll mean a thoughtful mix of old and new. But if the pandemic taught pharma advertisers anything it’s that the digital ads are no longer a “nice to have.” The healthcare world has gone digital and there’s never been a better time for advertisers to embrace that. 

For more insights, sign up for MediaRadar’s blog here.