COVID-19 Impact on Pharma Marketing and What It Means for Advertisers

COVID-19 Impact on Pharma Marketing and What It Means for Advertisers

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 and how to adjusting your pharma marketing strategy.

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

In March and April, the pharma marketing 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 severely. 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 marketing 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 TalChalozin. Programmatic ads found fans with industries’ looking to be more agile during the crisis. According to Innovid, Pharma marketing 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 at47% 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 platform data).

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

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 benet 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 the 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 in your pharma marketing and advertising efforts. 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 marketing efforts and unique content needs. 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 brie􀃖y, but the shift to programmatic video, telehealth, filling prescriptions from home, and the true benefits of native advertising for pharma marketers will be felt longterm.

Pharma Marketing Challenges & Industry Changes Since COVID

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Charlotte Otremba is Sr. Manager of Communications and Marketing at Bidtellect.

Holiday Creative Assets: The Naughty and Nice List

Holiday Creative Assets: The Naughty and Nice List

The holidays may look a little different this year, so all the more reason to ensure your holiday creative assets are top-performing. Digital advertisers: want to get on the nice list? See ya, bag of coal (or worse, sinking engagement)! Bidtellect’s [b]+studio shares best practices to make your holiday creative assets shine.

Headlines | The first (and best) way to catch a shopper’s eye.


  • Two-word headlines are so 2019. Phrases like “Holiday.Reimagined” or “The Best Running Shoes” don’t draw attention and earn trust. Remember, the headline of your Nativecreative should appear to look like an article.
  • Forgetting to Title Case Your Headlines


  • Use Compelling and Educational headlines like “What EveryGirl Wants in Her Closet”.
  • Ask Questions “Did Someone Say ‘Epic 1-Day Holiday Sale?’”
  • Oer to educate or solve problems “How to Create the Most Wonderful Holiday Tablescapes”.
  • Listicles are still the way to go “3 Classic Casual Outfits, Fit for Everyone”.
  • Sense of urgency – especially with sales “Don’t Miss Pier 1’sOne Big Sale & Clearance” or “Spoiler Alert: Your New FavoriteShoe is Here!” or “An Event So Extraordinary, It Only HappensTwice a Year.”
  • Content/Thought Leadership: o􀃠er tips for the best gifts or creative ideas. “The Ultimate Gift Guide for Everyone on Your Nice List” or “How to Wear Adidas Like Your Favorite Celebs”
  • Witty puns with a holiday twist: “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Happy” or “Take a Step in a New Direction this Holiday SZN!”

Description | The copy under the headline – it gives a little extra information about what your product or content offers!


  • A description that’s shorter than the headline. Tsk tsk.

  • Content that doesn’t match what is provided on the landing page


  • Make sure your call-to-action in the description matches your KPI. “Beat the heat and save on A/Cs and dehumidifiers from Walmart. Pick from portable air conditioners, window air conditioners, and more! Shop now.” or “These boots are made for anything. The Killington offers constant support with dynamic􀃖ex in every step. Get yours, shop now.”

  • Include a promotional code that is 20% off or higher in your holiday creative. Now more than ever, consumers need discounts. “Soft, flawless skin is truly the best gift. Today only, get 30% o your purchase, plus, get free gifts with purchase. Use code: TAKE30”

  • Offer to solve problems. Remember, most social gatherings will happen virtually – think about how your product will benefit the next Zoom or Facetime call.

Images | Your first and best visual cue – don’t slack here!


  • Text on images. Just don’t!

  • Cluttered images with no focal point

  • Dark images that don’t pop

  • Depressing imagery that makes the reader look away (hello remember it’s the holidays)


  • Use people or animals (they are more relatable!) in your holiday creative assets. Think: lifestyle, authentic, and in the holiday spirit. Tug on those heartstrings with images that show emotion.

  • Children, pets, food, and people in images perform best

  • Add some spice with animation or a cinemagraph

Video | Work in video content!


  • Super long videos (yawn)

  • Videos that require sound to get the message across. Not everyone has can hear or have headphones in.


  • Short and sweet with a clear message – conveyed with or without sound.

  • Pro Tip: Add subtitles.

Charlotte Otremba is Sr. Manager of Communications and Marketing at Bidtellect.

Holiday Advertising 2020: Top 3 Best Practices for Digital Advertisers

Holiday Advertising 2020: Top 3 Best Practices for Digital Advertisers

If planning your holiday campaigns feels overwhelming – fear not. Arm yourself with these best practices. For ways to update your creative assets, read this. For top trends this year, click here. For down and dirty stats to copy & paste, click here.

The most reach is critical for holiday advertising. Now is the time to go big or go home. Set aside a large budget.

Run nationally-targeted campaigns utilizing all 3 ad formats (in-feed, recommendation widget, and in-ad) across all 3 devices (desktop, tablet, and mobile) to ensure we are able to find relevant users at any time on any device.

Get access to as many placements as possible. Bidtellect is partnered with more than 30 supply partners for the most expansive network in the ecosystem, which means access to 58 million distinctly targetable placements and 55 billion Native auctions daily.

Reach outside social: Social promises contextually-relevant native ads that match their environment. Bidtellect promises the same, but across the open web in premium native environments with the ability to avoid undesirable content. Reach more consumers, safely. Native advertising outside social networks and programmatic Native Advertising are the fastest-growing categories of Native (eMarketer). Social media is the least trusted media source (Edelman Trust Barometer).

Online shopping will be even more popular than years past: 2019 holiday online sales were already record-breaking, and ecommerce, strengthened and solidified during the covid-19 pandemic, will continue to dominate consumer shopping.

  • 71% of US adults said they planned to do more than half of their holiday shopping digitally this year (daVinci Payments via eMarketer).
  • 60% of consumers plan to shop less in-store this season due to fear ofCOVID-19 exposure (Radial survey via MarTech Series).
  • 44% of respondents plan to shop more online during this year’s BlackFriday, Cyber Monday and Christmas holidays compared to last year’s holiday season (Quibit study via eMarketer).

Higher mobile engagement this year: It should be obvious, but maybe it isn’t. Mobile usage and engagement continues to grow rapidly. Before setting up holiday advertising campaigns, check that the landing pages you will be directing traffic to are as mobile-friendly as possible, from easy scrolling to readability to ease of purchasing products.

Mobile shopping: the new way to online shop: Expect mobile usage to be higher than ever this holiday season. That includes shopping online and via apps, comparing prices, and even using click-and-collect options. Make sure checkouts, landing pages, and content are mobile-friendly, and adjust holiday advertising to mobile.

  • 37% of US adults said they were more interested in mobile app shopping than they were last year (Salesforce via eMarketer).
  • Mobile shoppers spent an average of $197 on mobile orders during the2019 holiday season, a 17% increase over 2018 (Button research via Digital Commerce 360).

Target and retarget: Since a consideration cycle is generally required to make a purchase – especially with so many choices and sales during Black Friday weekend – supplement a prospecting strategy with retargeting to drive prospects back to the site to purchase. Make it even easier to buy online and pick up in-store, too.

Holiday shopping (and sales) will start earlier: Start early, like really early. Shoppers plan to start their holiday shopping earlier this year, and big retailers have sales planned for October. Plus, consumers are less likely to shop in-store and are worried about packages arriving on time in the current climate. They are also more concerned with budgets than in years past. Start sales, holiday gift ideas, content, and retargeting as early as possible.

  • 39% of shoppers plan to start shopping for the holidays in October into early November, and 30% plan to start on Black Friday/Cyber Monday (Radial survey via MarTech Series).
  • 41% of shoppers say they don’t plan to shop any earlier for holiday gifts (Radial survey via MarTech Series).
  • Target will kick off holiday sales in October (Target via The WashingtonPost), while Amazon is considering moving its postponed Prime Day to October (CNBC via The Washington Post).
  • 47% of Americans say they may need to start saving earlier for Christmas presents (The Christmas Company).

Charlotte Otremba is Sr. Manager of Communications and Marketing at Bidtellect.