Digital video takes over as the new—and cheaper—TV advertising for pharma

Did video kill the TV star in 2020? Not exactly, but it’s definitely making marketers rethink traditional TV viewing and advertising models.

Pharma marketers and agencies, even those with big budgets, are embracing digital video as not only a less costly alternative to mainstream TV buys but also as a way to target and engage increasingly fractured audiences when and where they want to watch something. Digital video also doesn't come with a 30-second time limit, which allows for more in-depth storytelling.

“We don’t all consume the same live TV programming or even streaming services anymore,” Leigh Householder, managing director of omnichannel strategy at Syneos Health, said.

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She pointed to two trends fueling the growth and changes with digital video: personal prime time, or the individual content any person watches that creates a kind of TV channel for one, and programmatic relevance, where artificially intelligent tools can match content to the viewers who value it.

“When you put the two together, you find—I wouldn’t even call it a channel—but an entirely new way to connect with people that’s very effective and affordable,” she said.

Viewers are watching digital pharma ads everywhere. A mid-year study found mobile as the top spot with 47% of people viewing there, according to video ad tech company Innovid. However, connected TV wasn’t far behind at 37%, which was a jump over last year’s more typical highs in the upper 20 percentiles.


TV advertising will certainly continue to be a vehicle for pharma marketers; they’re once again set for yearly spending of around $4 billion on national TV commercial media. However, TV is also changing, with marketers turning to addressable options that allow them to deliver different ads to different households during the same programming.

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As Susan Perlbachs, chief creative officer at Intouch Group, said in its 2021 trend report, “These days, it’s more accurate to simply call TV ‘video.’ Linear [traditional] TV couldn’t be optimized; it was ‘spray and pray.’ Now, with addressable TV, television has become just another screen, and channel to deliver customized content and forge the same connections as with programmatic."

"I love letting clients know how affordable TV is today," Perlbachs said, "even for rare disease brands, which are in desperate need of personalized, relevant connections.”