Can Snapchat’s rumored 3-second unskippable ads work for pharma?

Snapchat headquarters in Venice, CA.
If Snapchat goes ahead with reported three-second ads, some see an opening for unbranded pharma marketing.

The door to Snapchat may be opening a bit wider for pharma marketers. That’s because Snapchat is reportedly exploring unskippable three-second video ads that could serve as a gateway for more pharma to reach the elusive millennial and Gen Z audience on that social media, experts say.

There are caveats—most importantly, will Snapchat go through with the plan? Advertising Age, which first reported the potential change, says it’s under “serious consideration.”

And if Snapchat does implement these three-second video ads, the next big question for pharma is this: What kind of advertising can be done in just three seconds? Pharma would be limited to unbranded ads, no question. There's just not enough time for the required lists of risks and benefits of a particular drug. Reminder ads could be an option, but those would only work for the small number of drug brands with big-time name recognition.

“If Snapchat does this and it’s agreeable from a cost perspective, I do see some aggressive pharma companies going after this, more than likely with unbranded ads,” said Doug Weinbrenner, VP of engagement strategy at FCB Health agency Area 23.

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"The demographic that’s on Snapchat has been a very desired demographic for pharma and will continue to be in 2018," Weinbrenner said in an interview. "Pharma companies have had a harder time figuring out how to engage with them, and by them, I mean older millennials, Gen X and maybe younger millennials as well.”

Unbranded ads for conditions that affect those younger age groups—such as hemophilia, multiple sclerosis and HIV—could see success on Snapchat, he said. Over-the-counter drugs and cosmeceutical brands, including those in Big Pharma’s consumer divisions, might also resonate with Snapchatters.

To evaluate whether the rumored ads might work, Brad Einarsen, Klick Health senior director, social media, said pharma should start investigating.

“First, pharma companies should ask, 'Is my target market appropriate for Snapchat?'—and some pharma companies are looking at that now," Einarsen said in an interview. "If yes, should I do a test and see if I get ROI? Then inside that test is this three-second rule which might change the results."

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"The material has got to be compelling enough, and that is absolutely critical," he went on to say. "Pharma as an industry, in general, needs to get with the program so to speak and get material in front of these younger millennials or Gen Z that will resonate.”

Weinbrenner agreed any pharma Snapchat advertising style, tone, messaging and presentation has got to be on point for the younger audience.

“The pull-through has to be very intentional and somewhat match the experience of Snapchat. It would be a huge miss to do that and think they will love to go to your website and click on stuff,” he said.

As far as pharma companies already using Snapchat, there aren’t many easily identifiable examples, although Gilead seems to be an early proponent for its HIV drug Truvada. In an investor call early last year, Gilead said it planned to use Snapchat, along with other social media and dating sites, to advertise Truvada as a pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, in targeted advertising to help “get at populations that don’t engage in healthcare,” according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.