Should pharma abandon online ads?

KEY TAKEAWAY: The online ad industry is in deep trouble.  Marketers are questioning online ad effectiveness and consumers are sick and tired of viewing irrelevant ads when they are paying through the nose for broadband access.  Pharma should not abandon online ads, but rather invest more time and effort to ensure they provide an adequate ROI.

Click fraud, online media kickbacks to agencies, and bad analytics are just a few of the problems facing online advertisers.  Most pharma companies are using programmatic ad buys, but then they lose control of where the ads are placed.  No brand wants to be associated with a controversial site or one that specializes in fake news.  The answer, however, is not to abandon online ads, but to put in the time and money needed to ensure their effectiveness.

When I was involved in the launch of Cymbalta at Lilly online media was an integral part of the launch plan. We put as much time and effort into the online ads as the offline ads.  A creative brief was written and approved and shared with both our online ad agency and the agency that would be placing the ads.  In addition to demographics we shared psychographics so that both agencies would understand our target audience better.

After testing several concepts we then developed a sequence of ads that would be served to people who had seen the first ads.  The messages were tested and optimized which ensured success.  In addition, we developed a mini-site within an online ad format which delivered our message without requiring users to click on the site itself.

The online launch was hugely successful because we took the time to ensure success.  The lessons here are easy to understand: invest as much time and effort in the development of online ads ensures success.  In addition, your agency should be whiteboarding your online ads rather than relying 100% on programmatic placement.

Will pharma learn this lesson?  So far the answer has been largely “no”.  Online ads are almost executed as an afterthought with only a fraction of the development of offline ads.  Time to change thinking…