Boomers are tough on digital pharma ads, but like celeb endorsements

man looking at phone
(Quinn Dombrowski / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Aches and pains come with age, but apparently, skepticism about healthcare and pharma advertising do, too.

eZanga director of marketing Michelle Brammer

The digital marketing company eZanga looked at overall generational differences among consumers' online advertising habits and found Baby Boomers to be suspicious viewers of digital ads. Michelle Brammer, eZanga's director of marketing, put a healthcare and pharma lens on the results for FiercePharmaMarketing.

Baby Boomers (ages 55 and up) were the least receptive to digital ads of the three generations--Millennials (ages 18-34) and Generation Z representatives (ages 14-17) were the two younger groups--surveyed. However, they were most receptive as a group to celebrity endorsements, a well-worn pharma tactic. About 13% of Boomers said they would be more likely to watch a mobile video ad through to the end if it featured a celebrity or influencer, while only 7% of 14- to 17-year-olds said they would watch.

Millennials are more likely to be influenced by other Millennials, Brammer said, while Generation Z's teens are more likely to listen up when favored YouTube or SnapChat "stars" talk.

"It comes down to relatability," she said. "Baby Boomers grew up with celebrities and relate to them in a way other generations don't. Millennials and Generation Z are swayed by people who are more like them."

Digital marketing in general is more of a challenge for pharma and healthcare than other industries, Brammer acknowledged, particularly with older people. Baby Boomers, a common target group for pharma products, are more attuned to advertising and tend to click on fewer ads than their younger counterparts. The group also ranks highest in usage of ad blockers with 17% of them using the software.

Even sponsored content doesn't get around the ad detection of Baby Boomers. While 41% of respondents ages 14-34 said they were likely or very likely to click on sponsored content, 40% of people aged 45 and older said sponsored content is a nuisance and 37% said they will never click on it.

"A lot of it is trust. Baby Boomers feel like sponsored content follows them around," Brammer said. "They don't want to see anything that impedes what they're doing. … With the younger generations the opposite is true, some of them don't even recognize content as being sponsored."

Brammer said the trick for healthcare and pharma is reaching all the generations on social media and digital in ways that track as authentic to them. For younger generations, it might be talking openly about conditions or issues they're generally amenable to hearing about. For older people, though, companies need to walk the fine line of privacy sensitivities, while creating content that engages them.

Along with using celebrities, video could also work with Boomers, as that group tends to more often watch videos through to the end, Brammer said. Baby Boomers especially prefer mobile video delivered on Facebook, which 45% responded was their main platform for video consumption. Still, even that comes with a caveat for mobile use. Again suspicious of the "following around" aspect of mobile, more than half of people 45 and older said they never watch video ads on their phones.

- read the full report