Instagram updates could help pharma tap new audiences--and maybe get creative, too

Doug Weinbrenner

Pharma brand managers celebrated earlier this year when Twitter proposed a 10,000-character limit. But new changes to Instagram could give pharma marketers even more of a boost, one industry marketing expert said, as companies harness the platform's updated features to tap in to new audiences.

With Instagram, there's "a clear, new opportunity for pharma to get in a space that they haven't before," Doug Weinbrenner, senior director of social media at Kansas City, MO-based marketing firm Intouch Solutions, told FiercePharmaMarketing. The platform is rolling out additions that could make it even easier for companies to reach patients, including a feature that allows brands to toggle between multiple accounts.

Pharma could use the toggling feature to their advantage by targeting unique demographics through different accounts, Weinbrenner said. For example, Intouch is working with a company that wants to market to kids leaving home for the first time, and who have trouble doing their infusions while they're away at college.

A marketer could create an account tailored to the child leaving home and another for the parents, all without reinvesting in the platform. "You could kill two birds with one stone, depending on how many audiences you have," Weinbrenner said.

Pharma marketers can also take advantage of Instagram's "added functionality" such as videos to reach consumers, Weinbrenner said. The platform recently increased the time limit in video ads from 15 seconds to 30 seconds, and the latest iteration allows for 30- to 60-second videos. Similar to proposed increased character limits on Twitter, the expanded videos would open the door to longer-form content.

"Major brands wanted and needed more time to get their message out there," Weinbrenner said. "Thirty seconds wasn't enough and brands weren't spending money. In order to monetize the platform, major companies were coming and saying, if you increase our visibility from a video ad perspective, we'll spend more money."

But brand managers will need to tread lightly. The FDA's strict rules for pharma social media still apply to Instagram ads, and marketers need to make sure that a drug's safety information is included. Still, a longer limit on videos could give pharma marketers more room for experimentation. "If you spend 15 to 20 seconds giving safety information upfront, you still have the rest of the time to do something creative," Weinbrenner said.

Over the summer, the FDA came down on Canadian drugmaker Duchesnay for its Instagram ad for morning sickness med Diclegis, which featured celebutante Kim Kardashian. The company did not spell out all the drug's risks in the caption, regulators said, and they ordered Duchesnay to take down the ad.

Erica Moss

Duchesnay's move was "a huge mistake by an unknown pharma company," Weinbrenner said: "No one was scared off from Instagram by doing it. Our client was in the midst of investing and they didn't even bat an eye. They rolled their eyes. They said 'No, this is absolutely the wrong way of doing this.'"

Still, Duchesnay's drama illustrates an important point to consider when marketing on Instagram, Erica Moss, community manager of link management platform Bitly, told FiercePharmaMarketing. Pharma marketers should do the research and make sure that the medium fits the message before rolling out new ads. "Think about why you're doing it and why you're there, and if the ad is going to speak to your community," Moss said. "Making sure that it's buttoned up and platform-specific is superimportant."

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