Swipe up for pharma? Consumers see more Facebook and Instagram ads, but search still rules

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Google search ads still rule for pharma companies, but Facebook and Instagram are gaining with marketers looking to optimize their digital strategies. (alexsl / iStock Unreleased)

Will consumers swipe up for pharma ad stories in 2021? A growing number of pharma marketers using Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories formats hope so.

Already popular with millennials, teens and consumer brands, the 10- to 30-second photo and video "Stories" disappear after one day. Now, the format is gaining traction in pharma with early adopters, Ian Orekondy, CEO of Pranify, a digital pharma ad tracking company, said.

In the second half of 2020, eight pharma marketers—including Novartis, AstraZeneca and Merck—placed both branded (with scrolling important safety information) and unbranded Stories ads. The Stories appear as bubbles or boxes at the top of home screens—when tapped, a short message appears with "sponsored" at the top and the call to action to swipe up to "learn more."

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However, while the platforms are catching on, digital and media channels still claimed the bulk of pharma buys in the last six months of 2020.

Google search ads dominated, with 336 pharma brands placing ads there, followed by 182 brands buying display ad units, 122 advertising on Facebook, 70 on Instagram and 25 on Twitter, according to PranifyRx. For comparison, 38 brands advertised on TV during the same time.

The fastest-growing platforms were Facebook and Instagram, with the number of pharma advertisers jumping by 65% since June.

The top five most prolific advertisers on Facebook were Merz’s Xeomin, Novartis’ Entresto, Amgen’s Neulasta, AbbVie’s Juvederm, and Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent, with each placing hundreds of creative units on the platform.

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Notable in the high volume of ads was the pharmas’ strategy to test, tweak, change and shift creative executions as each looked to find the most effective messaging, Orekondy said.

“From a digital marketing perspective, the ability to test and optimize over time is one of the main advantages, and these companies are really taking advantage of,” he said.