Is Facebook right for pharma?

QUICK READ: The Washington Posts said: “After years of avoiding social media, drug companies are growing bolder about advertising on Facebook and other social networks, according to interviews with advertising executives, marketers, health-care privacy researchers, and patient advocates”. But the key question of Facebook ad effectiveness remains.

Ads promoting prescription drugs are popping up on Facebook for depression, HIV and cancer. Spending on Facebook mobile ads alone by pharmaceutical and health-care brands reached nearly a billion dollars in 2019, nearly tripling over two years, according to Pathmatics, an advertising analytics company.

HIPAA, which safeguards personal health records, typically does not cover drug companies or social media networks. It also typically doesn’t cover the sea of companies known as data brokers that can collect medical information like prescriptions, insurance claims, and even electronic health records, as long as they detach the data from the full name and address of the patient, as well as other personal details.

Medical history is not used to inform the interest categories that we make available to advertisers, and we prohibit businesses from sending us sensitive health information,” Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said in a statement. “Our teams work with health-related companies looking to reach their audiences on Facebook and we require them to act in accordance with the law.”

To reach potential consumers, drug companies don’t need to know an individual’s medical history. In many cases, the companies don’t want the data, since it comes with an increased liability of violating new privacy laws like those in Europe and California or angering regulators.

First, it’s important to know that drug companies are not receiving personal; data about patients. They are targeting demographics and past use of the social media platform. But the key question remains; are they effective?

First, we need to understand what people do when they see these ads. Ads for brands are usually ignored but non-branded ads that hit an “I want to know more” button are usually more successful. For example, a Facebook ad that informs people of the danger of the flu will be more successful than an ad for the brand of flu vaccine.

In order for Facebook ads to be effective agencies have to test different messages to find one that resonates with their target audience based on demographics. Cookies are out as a targeting parameter.

Facebook has been chasing pharma company ad dollars for years but the challenges of non-invasive ads have restricted using it. The other issue is one of trust. Facebook has been abusing users’ trust for years but they don’t seem to care as they more money than the government printing office.

Pharma should be tracking these ads with the following metrics:

1ne: How many people are clicking through the ads to know more.

2wo: When they do click through how much time are they spending on the site?

3hree: What does clickstream analysis show? Are they going to third party sites to learn more?

Finally, how do the metrics on Facebook compare to ads placed strategically on other sites?

I’m not a big fan of Facebook. Advertisers continue to give Facebook a lot of money even though Facebook shits on oversight and privacy. In the end, good creative could lead to good metrics but it’s largely going to depend on the health condition and whether people trust pharma enough to want to learn more.