Tune in: Pharma rides audio's surge with podcasts and streaming radio ads

Pharma companies have dabbled in podcasts for a few years, but interest in both original programming and sponsored content is now surging. Audio media companies such as iHeartMedia and Pandora say healthcare and pharma demand for podcast programming and advertising is on the rise.

Why? Experts point to data-driven audience targets and longer formats that allow for immersive content.

“This is a perfect medium to enter into a trusted environment where people are looking for answers and give them long-form answers,” said Conal Byrne, president of iHeartMedia.

Pharma interest also tracks with the podcast's rise in popularity in general—more than half of Americans have now listened to a podcast, with 32% listening monthly, according to Edison Research. Audio advertising is also on the rise. Marketers spent $479 million on podcast ads in 2018, an increase of 34% over the previous year, eMarketer says.

Incyte recently chose Pandora for its awareness campaign for polycythemia vera, citing past effectiveness using the media. Pandora, which counts Allergan, Eli Lilly and Teva among its other pharma clients, hosted a pharma-specific conference in New York this fall to introduce “sonic strategy and sound health” to pharma marketers. One of the appeals is data-driven targets in partnership with Crossix, including more than 2,000 different audience segments and more than 100 specific to health conditions such as allergies, headaches, diabetes or arthritis.

Experimentation is also continuing in original content podcasts direct from pharma companies. Recently, Pfizer—which maintains two ongoing podcast series called "Get Science" and "Diverse Perspectives"—launched an eight-part vaccine series deep dive. Called “The Antigen,” it is intended as the company's first therapy-specific podcast, with plans for future series to be developed in other healthcare topic areas.

Other pharma company podcasts include Johnson & Johnson’s “Innovation” podcast, Roche Genentech’s “Two Scientists Walk into a Bar” and Eli Lilly’s “Elixir Factor.”

As consumers and physicians move from reading to watching and now listening—Pandora calls Generation Z the earbud generation—the key for pharma marketers will be to translate visual marketing strengths into relevant and unique content for audio.