Programmatic Advertising: Opportunities and Considerations for Pharma

As one of the most highly regulated industries, pharma presents a unique challenge for marketers and agencies alike. The regulatory idiosyncrasies of the sector are compounded by the precision and rigor required in the targeting of healthcare professionals. As with so many other areas of our industry, programmatic trading and the proper use of data has created a raft of new opportunities for pharmaceutical advertising, and in this blog I’ll explore some of the key benefits and limitations of programmatic advertising for pharma companies. 

Key Benefits 

Targeted Advertising: Programmatic advertising allows pharma companies to target healthcare professionals and patients with precision, ensuring that the most relevant message is delivered to the most suitable audience at the optimal time, increasing the chances of engagement and conversion. Furthermore, with the right approach to data handling, first-party data can be used to bolster a campaign’s performance, as it can be used to inform and influence awareness activity by profiling existing customers, and finding more like them online based on their internet behavioural signals. The use of opted in first-party data should be at the forefront of any pharma brand’s online targeting strategy.  

Compliance: The strict regulations in the pharmaceutical industry can make it difficult to advertise products online. Programmatic advertising, however, offers compliance with the relevant regulations. Tech platforms such as DV360 used by our inhouse trade desk build in strict guidelines, so that any adverts that promote prescribed drugs or treatments are immediately rejected, thus ensuring that the right message is communicated to the target audience without any legal issues.  

Data Insights: Programmatic advertising offers detailed and granular data insights into the performance of ad campaigns. Pharma companies can monitor the engagement rates and conversion rates, providing valuable, actionable insights into the effectiveness of their ad campaigns. 

Time and Cost Savings: Programmatic advertising’s real-time trading protocols and smart-bidding algorithms automate much of the process of media buying, saving time and money for pharma companies. This automation also allows pharma companies to focus on other important aspects of their marketing campaigns and frees agencies to put resource into strategy and planning which might otherwise have gone into negotiating spot buys. 

Scalability: Programmatic advertising is highly scalable, allowing pharma companies to expand their campaigns as required. This can be especially useful when launching new products or moving into new markets. It also allows the testing of multiple creative formats and messaging at scale via the use of dynamic creative, allowing for greater insight and leanings, which can help refine messaging for future activity. This can eliminate the often slow and clunky process of banner production, as well and saving money on the creative process.  


Limited Data: While programmatic advertising offers detailed data insights, it is limited to the information that can be collected through digital channels. This means that it may not provide a complete picture of the performance of a campaign. This is not necessarily an issue provided the agency or the pharmaceutical advertiser is cognisant of the limitations of the dataset before them when reviewing it, and takes care to avoid an observer bias of only responding to the data that can be tracked.  

Ad Fraud: Programmatic advertising can be susceptible to ad fraud, which is a significant concern for pharma companies. Ad fraud occurs when fraudulent impressions or clicks are generated, which can lead to wasted ad spend and a negative impact on campaign performance. While this is a risk that should be considered, there are a range of opportunities available for agencies to protect against it. Third-party trackers such as Adloox or Double Verify use real-time bidding modifiers to ensure every impression is seen by a human and every click is made by a person and not a bot. At Space & Time, we take ad fraud very seriously and ensure all our campaigns have an ad fraud tracker applied to them. 

Brand Safety: Programmatic advertising can expose pharma companies to brand safety issues, such as appearing alongside inappropriate content. This can negatively impact a brand’s reputation and result in lost revenue. As with click fraud however, the proper use of tools and safeguards can make this risk negligible. These are examples of how sufficient expertise and the appropriate tech stack is essential for this sector, as much in the removal of risk as in the delivery of value for brands.   

In conclusion, programmatic advertising offers many benefits to pharma companies looking to advertise their brand and products to the healthcare industry within any therapeutic area. It enables targeted advertising, offers compliance, provides detailed data insights, saves time and money, and is highly scalable. However, pharma companies need to be aware of the limitations of programmatic advertising, such as limited data, ad fraud, and brand safety issues, and they must work with agencies whose specialists are competent and accomplished at mitigating the potential risks and contextualising the available data and working it into strategy planning in an appropriate way. 

At Space & Time Health, our longstanding expertise in pharma and specialist knowledge of healthcare media mean that we understand the complexities of programmatic advertising within the pharmaceutical industry. Our inhouse team of programmatic specialists can help pharma companies navigate these challenges and deliver effective programmatic advertising campaigns either as a standalone exercise, within a multichannel campaign or as an evolving part of our long-term strategic growth roadmaps. Contact us to learn more about how we can help your pharma brand achieve success through programmatic advertising.