Programmatic is not right for pharma

KEY TAKEAWAY:[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Today’s online ads are not about getting in front of as many people as you can[/inlinetweet], they are about getting relevant ads in front of highly targeted people. This is especially true for pharma clients who are marketing specialty drugs and who don’t want their ads appearing on controversial sites. 

Programmatic buying usually produces pretty low engagement rates, which essentially means that a lot of people are ignoring your ads.   Standard display advertising ads bought programmatically have very low CTR’s, about 0.18% of standard media, according to Google’s analysis. In other words, you get what you pay for. If you want cheap ads, you can expect very little in terms of effectiveness.


The other problem I have is that In addition programmatic buying comes with an exceptional risk of fraud. The ease of programmatic buying means that, essentially, anyone can buy and anyone can sell. This leaves an open playing field for bad actors. The most common examples of ad fraud are: Bot traffic(i.e. non-human automated plays, clicks, etc.) and non-viewable ads (ex. An interstitial or video is buried in a feed somewhere and the user never actually even sees it). In 2014, boat traffic accounted for 56% of all website traffic and cost the industry about $6.3 billion. One of the biggest reasons ad fraud is rampant is because it’s not exactly illegal, which means low-risk and high-potential for scammers.

As the chart above indicates the effective ad per dollar for buying ads directly from a publisher are almost 8X higher than programmatic ad buying.

Recently I had a client who wanted to test programmatic v’s traditional ad placement.  We made a small buy via programmatic versus a small bay where I chose the publishers.  The result?  The ads that were placed directly on targeted publishers, like NY Times Health, had a 67% higher click through rate, a 55%V lower bounce rate and had more time on the site than programmatic.  I wasn’t even half way through my analytics when the DTC manager said “ok, I’ve seen enough”.

Then there was the frantic call I received at 8PM at night from a client whose ads began appearing on some controversial sites.  She was in a panic and said “if management sees these ads on these sites they are going to roast me!”.   We had to go back to her agency and whitelist sites.

If your drug is mass market programmatic may be cost effective to build awareness, but if you really want to reach the right audience at the right time make your agency do the legwork to reach your target audience.