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How Programmatic Advertising Allows Pharma to Execute Targeted Ad Campaigns


In 2023, it is estimated that over 91% of display ad spending will be transacted programmatically1, and the dollar volume of programmatic display will more than double from $61 billion in 2019 to a staggering $142 billion.

Marcella Milliet Sciorra

Marcella Milliet Sciorra

While the pharmaceutical industry has historically lagged behind other industries like retail in the overall shift to programmatic advertising, that is quickly changing. The pandemic accelerated this transformation, as pharma sales representatives could no longer educate healthcare providers in person about new treatments during lockdowns, and marketers turned to targeted advertising to make up the difference.

Thankfully, with the digitization of healthcare data and the ability to use that data in a privacy-forward and HIPAA-compliant way, physicians and patients can now be reached with precision to support more informed decision-making and ultimately, better outcomes. Let's break down what programmatic advertising is, how it enables highly targeted ad campaigns, and why pharma marketers must lean in now to meet the quickly changing media landscape.

Understanding Programmatic Advertising and How It's Effective

Defined as the use of automated technology for media buying, programmatic advertising sells, places, and optimizes digital advertising space across channels like connected TV (CTV), mobile, display, video, radio, and social media – all in a matter of seconds. Programmatic advertising eliminates the most laborious, tedious parts of the media buying process while dramatically improving the ability to measure and optimize campaigns at scale.

For example, programmatic advertisers can immediately see how many impressions their campaigns have achieved, analyze how various types of creative are performing, and break out insights by different audience segments. Campaigns can then be adjusted to automatically optimize real-time bidding (RTB) parameters to focus on the metrics that matter. As a result, programmatic campaigns tend to be much more relevant to patients and cost-effective over time, especially when compared with traditional linear TV campaigns that much of the industry still relies on for consumer campaigns.

Healthcare Marketers’ Next Favorite Programmatic Channel: Connected TV

For decades, linear TV represented healthcare marketers’ single largest ad budget allocation each year2. But that’s changing as the reach of linear TV continues to drop, healthcare marketers experiment with CTV to reach more targeted audiences, and the number of ad-supported stream services grows.

Overall, the pandemic was a huge boon to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+. Millions spent more time on the couch binge-watching their favorite shows, and analyst firm eMarketer estimates that growth will only continue in the coming years as 73% of the U.S. population will use streaming services by 20263. Additionally, CTV will soon account for more than one-fifth of total programmatic video ad spending for the first time4.

The lesson: When consumers embrace a channel, advertisers are sure to follow.

For healthcare marketers, CTV has a lot to like. It’s a similar experience to linear TV but with the precision targeting and measurement of a programmatic channel. Creative made for linear campaigns can be easily repurposed for CTV use – or adapted for unique, premium inventory that can accommodate longer ads to fit mandated disclosures. And CTV may be the only way to reach net-new patient audiences – including “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers” that are impossible to reach with linear TV. Finally, its programmatic nature gives advertisers the opportunity to experiment with the latest technology to automatically improve campaigns over time.

Optimizing Programmatic Campaigns Toward Better Ad Relevance and Audience Quality

While healthcare advertisers can roughly measure a traditional campaign’s reach using metrics like ratings or circulations, it can take weeks or months to analyze these campaigns to see if they were effective or not in driving real-world outcomes.

Of course, programmatic advertisers have greater visibility into performance data, but delayed measurement and optimization continues to be a challenge5. It’s difficult to estimate the hard costs of these delays. However, the bottom line is that underperforming segments of a campaign may be wasting millions of impressions serving ads to less qualified patients. Ad relevancy suffers as a result.

As the pharma industry continues to move toward programmatic to better plan, activate, measure, and optimize campaigns, there’s a tremendous opportunity to address the challenge of delayed measurement and optimization. By linking regularly refreshed healthcare datasets and campaign data, machine learning technology has made it possible to automatically optimize campaign decisions toward outcomes that have real-world significance such as audience quality and script volume.

At the end of the day, programmatic advertising – including through emerging channels like CTV – offers pharma marketers a unique chance to connect with patients with a level of precision that was impossible until just a few years ago. This is especially useful for marketers but has even wider implications for society at large. As more and more pharma marketers embrace programmatic and adopt the latest technology to optimize campaigns in real-time, expect less waste and improved relevancy moving forward. Consumers ultimately benefit from an improved experience and they can have more informed discussions with providers to build trust, influence adherence, and support healthier long-term outcomes.

Marcella Milliet Sciorra is the Chief Marketing Officer, DeepIntent.

1 https://www.insiderintelligence.com/insights/digital-advertising-market-trends-predictions/

2 https://www.adexchanger.com/tv-and-video/linear-is-still-the-king-of-pharma-but-for-how-long/

3 https://www.insiderintelligence.com/insights/ott-video-streaming-services/

4 https://www.emarketer.com/content/us-advertisers-will-spend-63-billion-on-programmatic-video-2022

5 https://www.pharmalive.com/what-delayed-measurement-is-costing-healthcare-marketers-and-society-at-large/

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