Digtal Pharma Marketing Challenges: Brand Safety

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Although digital pharma marketing has gained roots in the healthcare system, challenges abound in terms of its use in pharma industry. The reasons are many, with most based on health care and pharma compliance concerns. Despite these challenges, the annual growth of pharma industry’s digital spending has crossed $1 Billion, with more on the way. These digital marketing efforts include e-Detailing, mobile applications and email marketing campaigns to name a few.

The need for digital marketing solutions comes at a time when pharma industry globally suffers from one of the lowest interaction rates, putting to question the usability of traditional sales and marketing efforts in current times.


The initial efforts to address this low interaction challenge digitally came by using large healthcare websites as advertising mediums. Even these have started to lose their edge with growing competition. This indicates that merely promoting a huge banner on a website it not enough to engage the current physician unless true strategies are employed. Still, the same tactic is the most efficient monetary wise, reducing the spending budget by over 70% when compared to traditional click through rate.

The next strategic step therefore requires a comprehensive audit of the marketing strategies by the pharma brands before engaging any effort, including digital. These pharma managers now have to look long and hard in the mirror and ask serious questions such as

  • 1. Are we reaching are target or how are we going to reach our target?

  • 2. What is the most economical way to reach this target?

  • 3. Can I ensure brand safety on the digital interface?

  • 4. Is my strategy effectively reaching my target?


Digital advertising is a tough place to be in terms of branding. This is because digital marketing has the strongest behavioral targeting impacts. The concern increases multifold in pharma industry, which only increases the burden of marketing challenges on the average pharma product manager. The USA pharmaceutical industry is for example, under the watchful glare of HIPAA, FDA and FTC. Examples abound on ‘crackdowns’ where FDA issued strict warning letters to pharma companies promoting products on Facebook and other social media websites.


Pharma companies need to advertise their brands at places where specific ailments for which the drug is made for are discussed online. This makes placement and competition for the ad fierce. The number of ads per page on the web has increased to a whopping 41% in the last years. The result is cluttering of the page space and diffusion of marketing message for the brand. The same trend is found in other markets such as finance, where content supply is less than the demand.


Pharmaceuticals are most sensitive to any negative branding that may occur due to incorrect placement of the brand. This concern magnifies on the digital realm. Pharma can benefit from international guidelines such as those of Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Also known as the inventory vetting guidelines, the guides help identify prohibited and non-standard content which should be avoided by the brand. These guidelines however are not specific to pharma, meaning that again, pharma has to rely on its own set of pharma safety rules to discern proper placement of its ads.

The only way these challenges of brand safety and digital advertising in pharma can be addressed is through a comprehensive strategy for brand development and marketing. This requires thinking from a holistic angle which addresses targeting, scalability and brand safety. Digital integration of the brand requires serious though process to ensure its effectiveness.