Programmatic's the latest word for targeting drug pitches to the right docs

It seems that pharma companies are getting with the program--programmatic, that is. One of the hottest buzzwords in advertising, programmatic refers to the automated process of buying and placing ads, and it's quickly gaining a foothold in the drug business. Dismissed in the past as too risky, because of regulatory and patient privacy concerns, the benefits of better ad targeting, greater effectiveness--and lower costs--are beginning to win pharma companies over.

CMI/Compas SVP Nicole Woodland-DeVan

"We've seen a swell of adoption," Nicole Woodland-DeVan, CMI/Compas senior VP, told FiercePharmaMarketing. "Every client I've spoken to has said that programmatic is on their strategic agenda for this year."

Part of the reason for that surge is that pharma companies have a second marketing group in physician audiences, where there are far fewer impediments. With physicians, pharma can pick and choose target audiences with a great degree of demographic complexity and detail. Want to reach oncologists based in the Midwest who are treating a particular type of cancer? Programmatic can find them and serve a customized ad only to that group.

Reaching the right doctors at the right place and time results in spending efficiencies--pharmas spend less on media to get better results. Programmatic also offers the ability to optimize online campaigns in real time.

CMI/Compas EVP Eugene Lee said his company's proprietary system can identify and verify physicians down to the individual doctor. He is serving as co-chair of a programmatic buying summit for pharma in Philadelphia in August.

"Before programmatic we had to rely on data reports from publishers. With one campaign it might say there were 400,000 unique visitors, but the reality is there are not even that many cardiologists practicing in the U.S.," Lee told FiercePharmaMarketing. "So who were the people showing up to the sites? With our ID'ing we'll be able to uncover that."

Woodland-DeVan declined to name any of CMI/Compas' pharma clients, but she did say that one large drugmaker using programmatic across all its brands has reduced costs per exposure by 30%. In one campaign targeting doctors for a particular drug, they saw a more than 15% increase in prescriptions written over two months.

Consumer programmatic ad campaigns by pharma are less common, but even those are expected to increase over the next few years, despite worries about control and privacy. eMarketer estimates overall programmatic to grow to $20 billion by 2016, and account for 63% of all online display ads.

Other agencies working to bring more programmatic to the pharma industry include a VivaKi and Publicis Health Media partnership announced last fall, and MDC, which earlier this year rebranded itself as "the programmatic healthcare agency."

- see the eMarketer report

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