The futility of banner ads

Digital ad spending in the industry will reach $15.84 billion in 2022. Although growth in digital budgets is slowing, we estimate the category will see nearly $20 billion in spending in 2024. For every $1 million invested in online banner ads, just 0.1%, or $1,000, derives value for brands, resulting in $999,000 wasted by brands. So why is pharma wasting so much money?

The vast majority of digital advertising is not being viewed at all, yet the drug industry continues to waste money on them. Research has shown that only 35% of digital display ads received views. And of those, only 9% of ads received more than a second’s worth of attention. Meanwhile, only 4% of ads received more than 2 seconds of engagement.

It’s common knowledge that 50-60 percent of ad clicks are accidental. Display is an incredibly low-effort way to spend your marketing budget, whether trying to reach physicians or patients. The question then becomes, “why are pharma brands still using them?”.

The answer is complicated and lies in a system where DTC and HCP marketers “have to do something.”

To reach HCPs, the best and most effective method is still Medscape. Medscape can match your targeted HCP list and develop online strategies to reach them with meaningful content that can be measured. While some have seen luck with ePocrates, it’s been my experience that physicians don’t like ads when looking up medical information for patients.

One client, through testing, thought their message about efficacy would win over physicians, so they used that key message in all their online ads. Still, it wasn’t practical because physicians wanted much more information, including insurance coverage and compliance issues.

For patients, using banner ads is the most significant waste of money in DTC budgets. DTC marketers often repurpose offline ads for use online which doesn’t work. If you want your online advertising to work well, think like an online health seeker and test different executions of message delivery.

The behavior of online health seekers also differs by the stage of their research. Those, for example, who are newly diagnosed, look to social media for others’ experiences. Caregivers want to know about treatment options to ease their nervousness and understand triggers to possible health issues. There is no way that one banner ad flight can be relevant to every audience member.

Finally, there is the colossal waste of programmatic advertising, which is the biggest scam in online advertising. I’ve done a lot of analysis of programmatic ad spending, and the fraud is unbelievably high, yet agencies continue to recommend programmatic.

Until pharma companies invest in a digital department with experienced digital marketers, the problems, and waste, will continue.