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Pharma digital marketing in the U.S. Spending more and wrong.

The US Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Industry 2014: Digital Ad Spending Forecast and Trends, a new report from eMarketer shows that Pharma Marketing spending on digital remains on steady 3.0% of the total digital ad spending level. Unfortunately half of it is spent wrong.

This has been a common joke of marketers and advertisers for a long time: If I only knew which half I spend on wrong tactics I would make myself and my company rich. However, jokes aside, at K-message we can clearly see which quarter of this budget is going wrong way. We talk serious money here, healthcare and pharma ad spending is now at USD 1.41 bn level, and by 2017 we will pass the threshold of two billions.

US Healthcare and Pharma Industry Digital Ad Spending 2012-2018. Source: eMarketer.com

US Healthcare and Pharma Industry Digital Ad Spending 2012-2018. Source: eMarketer.com

eMarketer takes into account all healthcare and pharmaceutical digital marketing spending in the United States. It includes prescribed (Rx) and over the counter (OTC) products, specific products and services addressed to healthcare professionals, as well as direct to consumer advertising of products, services, hospitals, health insurers etc.

More than half of this budget (56%) goes for direct response advertisement. The remainder of 44% is spent on branding campaigns. This is an artificial segmentations, as the objective of campaign usually is not so clear in the American, DTC driven market. Every branding effort may bring direct response.

What is more striking in eMarketer’s report is the share of spending on healthcare and pharma digital marketing by channel. It seems that mobile is still an ugly duckling for pharma marketers, who dedicate only 26.5% of their budget to mobile formats.

It is incredible if you look at this from the perspective. The same crowd that claims “we want more direct response and we spend more than half of our budget for it” in the same time neglects the channel that is the best to accomplish this objective.

Healthcare and pharma marketing is the single industry that spends on mobile the smallest chunk of its budget. Even PC makers spend 33% of their budget on mobile, but we in Pharma remain connected to the desktop. If we go mobile, pharma marketing focus mostly on mobile search advertisement.

US Digital Ad Spending by Industry and Channel 2014, Source: eMarketer.com

US Digital Ad Spending by Industry and Channel 2014, Source: eMarketer.com

We can try to persuade ourselves, that there is some logical reasoning behind this inefficient budget allocation. However, at K-message we tend to believe that the only reason to avoid mobile advertising in pharma is simply change-aversion. Mobile advertisement is well regulated, rules are clear, and results are easily measurable. It allows better interaction than PC in many dimensions: it can be geo-located, instant, personalized. The only disadvantage over display ad on PC screen? It requires additional work.

Digital marketing is not a rocket science that Pharma R&D are performing. You can start simply with text messaging in your next multichannel campaign. Make sure that your next edetailing is part of the CLM. Give your audience some thrill with elements of gaming. Do not fly everyone to the remote conference site, use virtual one instead. This is pharma digital marketing, not putting banners every here and there.
We really hope that pharma marketers will surprise eMarketer by proving they know how to use digital marketing tactics efficiently. Fingers crossed!

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About Piotr Wrzosiński

Piotr Wrzosinski is a sociologist focused on digital marketing in highly regulated industries. He combines experience from top players in tobacco, financial services, and pharma with a passion to the content marketing and technology. All opinions posted are his own unless stated otherwise.

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