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With COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders still dominating the collective consciousness in the US and Canada, pharmaceutical and healthcare marketers may be wondering how best to manage their efforts. Indeed, coronavirus impacted planned ad spend in March and April, but recovered quickly; prescription drug spending and video performance remained steady. Since May, ad spend is up YoY. Performance testing, creative solutions to information requirements, and the power of Native will bring pharmaceutical marketers the most success now and beyond. Pharma marketers: here’s what you need to know.

Slight Dip in Spend in March and April, Then Major Spending

In March and April, the situation looked a bit dire. In one eMarketer survey, respondents were asked, “What is the level of coronavirus-related strain on your practice?” 41% said severe. An IAB survey found that 70% of buyers had adjusted or paused their planned ad spend.  But it was barely a blip: by mid-April, spending began to climb again. 

Pharma Ad Spend Increased YoY 

If there was any cut in pharmaceutical digital ad spend in March and April, it was short-lived: By May, medical and pharma ad spending was up 56% overall year over year, according to MediaRadar. And according to an August eMarketer report, US B2B digital healthcare ad spend increased 41.2% from 2019 to 2020. 

Some concrete examples: for the first six months of 2020, Pfizer digital advertising is up 532%, Amgen is up 216% and GlaxoSmithKline is up 151%, according to MediaRadar’s data. Biotech companies saw a 171% spike in ads to professionals, and tended to focus on COVID-19 messaging around things like antibodies and testing, according to BioPharmaDive

Prescription Drug Spending Soared

Prescription drugs soared 123% over typical spending levels during the spike—and cancer drugs in particular (MediaRadar). There was an increase in overall prescriptions filled just before the start of social distancing—mid-March volumes were up 10% compared to peaks in early February. By the end of the month, however, rates leveled off, according to BioPharmaDive. Two things seemed to happen: patients “stocked up” on prescriptions pre-social distancing and lockdown, and have continued to fill prescriptions even without in-person doctor visits. 

Programmatic Video Delivers on Performance & Flexibility

Pharma saw an uptick in programmatic video ads, driven by the need for flexibility and convenience during the pandemic, according to Innovid co-founder and CTO Tal Chalozin. Programmatic ads found fans with industries’ looking to be more agile during the crisis. According to Innovid, Pharma video volume saw 85% year-over-year growth for the last week of July. The pharma market saw jumps in both broadcast (10%) and programmatic (9%) video ads for the week. 

When it came to where viewers were watching video ads, mobile was the winner at 47% at the end of July (FiercePharma). That mobile is leading viewership and engagement is no surprise. Mobile had a 106% higher CTR than Desktop in 1H 2020, according to Bidtellect 1H 2020 platform data. In Q2 2020, Mobile users spent 20% longer on sites per visit after engaging with a Native Ad than Desktop users, and 58% more than Tablet users (Bidtellect 1H 2020 Native Report).

Could This Be the Start of a Permanent Shift to Telehealth & Data Technology?

In-person doctor visits decreased, while reliance on telehealth visits increased. The shift could be permanent. Telehealth visits were near 0% until March 12, when they steadily increased to 28% by April 1. Overall doctor visits decreased 56% in March compared to the average number of visitations in February as of April 1, according to Crossix Patient via BioPharmaDive. And the percentage of doctor visits happening remotely (via telehealth) has gone from negligible volumes to 28.1% of HCP visits since mid-March.

In general, healthcare professionals are hopeful for more advancing technology and data usage for the benefit of patients. In a March 2020 Philips survey via eMarketer,  58% of respondents believe healthcare data can be used to improve interoperability between platforms; 57% believe it can be used to improve accuracy of data and 54% believe it could improve data security.

Good News for Pharma and Healthcare Marketers

With a slight dip in spend, there’s an affordable media opportunity in there somewhere, so take advantage of those lower prices. Increasing comfort with filling prescriptions without an in-person visit is a great opportunity for pharma marketers, so adjust messaging accordingly. Ditto goes for increasing comfort in telehealth in general; the pandemic forced a greater adoption of virtual health visits and it will likely stick around.

The Power of Native + Pharma

Native is the new standard for effectively communicating brand messages online, and the format lends itself expertly to pharma content. Native ads are placed within relevant editorial content, and the formats blend in with the form, style, and voice of the page they appear on. When clicked, they drive traffic to strategically developed editorial. For pharma marketers, their format and placement lend credibility, and act as a bridge to a relatable brand or patient story. 

Native Ads lead to 3x higher brand awareness and purchase intent (TripleLift), and have proven to boost in-store traffic by 21% – and more efficiently than standard display ads (Sharethrough).  .

For pharma marketers, the Native ISI units make including necessary information not only feasible, but pleasing to the eye. Contextual targeting ensures privacy standards are upheld; if native ads are targeted based on the content of the article rather than using trackable user information such as cookies, this alleviates most privacy, HIPAA, FDA, and other regulatory guidelines, because users have not been tracked or targeted (BioPharmaDive). Bidtellect’s creative team, [b]+studio, works with clients for creative solutions to information requirements, such as carousel units, and our platform offers extensive optimization capabilities to optimize to best-performing units. 

The COVID-19 impact on pharma ad spend was felt, if briefly, but the shift to programmatic video, telehealth, filling prescriptions from home, and the true benefits of native advertising for pharma marketers will be felt long term.  

Read more: Bidtellect Case Studies

Stats mentioned:

      • By May, medical and pharma ad spending was up 56% overall year over year (MediaRadar). 
      • US B2B digital healthcare ad spend increased 41.2% from 2019 to 2020 (August eMarketer report).
      • Prescription drugs soared 123% over typical spending levels during the spike—and cancer drugs in particular (MediaRadar).
      • For the first six months of 2020, Pfizer digital advertising is up 532%, Amgen is up 216% and GlaxoSmithKline is up 151%  (MediaRadar).
      • Biotech companies, which saw a 171% spike in ads to professionals, tended to focus on COVID-19 messaging around things like antibodies and testing (BioPharmaDive)
      • Mid-March prescription fill volumes were up 10% compared to peaks in early February. By the end of the month, however, rates leveled off. (BioPharmaDive)
      • Pharma video volume, led all categories with 85% year-over-year growth for the last week of July. The pharma market saw jumps in both broadcast (10%) and programmatic (9%) video ads for the week. (Innovid via FiercePharma)
      • When it came to where viewers were watching video ads, mobile was the no-surprise winner at 47% at the end of July (FiercePharma).
      • Mobile had a 106% higher CTR than Desktop in 1H 2020 (Bidtellect 1H 2020 Native Report)
      • In Q2 2020, Mobile users spent 20% longer on sites per visit after engaging with a Native Ad than Desktop users, and 58% more than Tablet users (Bidtellect 1H 2020 Native Report)
      • Overall doctor visits decreased 56% in March compared to the average number of visitations in February as of April 1. (Crossix Patient via BioPharmaDive)
      • Telehealth visits were near 0% until March 12, when they steadily increased to 28% as of April 1. (Crossix Patient via BioPharmaDive)
      • The percentage of doctor visits happening remotely (via telehealth) has gone from negligible volumes to 28.1% of HCP visits since mid-March (BioPharmaDive)
      • In a March 2020 Philips survey via eMarketer,  58% of respondents believe healthcare data can be used to improve interoperability between platforms; 57% believe it can be used to improve accuracy of data and 54% believe it could improve data security (eMarketer).
      • Native Ads lead to 3x higher brand awareness and purchase intent (TripleLift).
      • Native ads register an 18% higher lift in purchase intent than standard banner ads and have proven to boost in-store traffic by 21% – and more efficiently than standard display ads (Sharethrough)

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