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Programmatic Media: Maximize ROI and Audience Engagement with These Proven Tactics

In the rapidly shifting world of digital advertising, few marketing solutions are more robust, efficient, or flexible than programmatic. Yet, for the uninitiated, programmatic can seem complex and even cumbersome. Coupled with compliance considerations and recent changes to data collection, getting started can feel anything but straightforward. However, for pharmaceutical and healthcare marketers looking to reach specific HCP and patient audiences, programmatic is now considered a critical-player in virtually all online media campaigns.

So, exactly what is programmatic?

Programmatic media is media that leverages software to buy, deliver and optimize ads across the World Wide Web to target, reach and engage preferred audiences. As much of the process is automated with machine and algorithmic learning, it’s easy to see why it’s become an attractive and increasingly vital component of media campaigns.

Unlike SEM and social media advertising where a user must be active on specific platforms to trigger an ad, programmatic leverages a swath of intent signals and targeting criteria to reach them almost any and every time they’re online. With patient and professional audiences spending more time online, programmatic is anticipated to drive 68% of digital media advertising this year, an astounding $89 billion.[1]

Programmatic platforms are keeping pace with demand by expanding their inventory and channels – think audio, outdoor digital signs and smart TV – along with improving viewability standards. In spite of recent regulations on data collection and the ongoing war against cookies, it’s also worth noting programmatic targeting remains dynamic and adaptive. Hyper-local geo-targeting, keywords, and contextually-rich environments represent a small portion of the targeting options available via programmatic. Optimization events are equally rich.

Far from optimizing toward garden variety metrics like clicks and impressions, a true media partner will facilitate conversions that count – registrations, dwell rates, acquisitions, mobile app downloads and more.

Far from optimizing toward garden variety metrics like clicks and impressions, a true media partner will facilitate conversions that count – registrations, dwell rates, acquisitions, mobile app downloads and more. In fact, the Digital Marketing Institute recently reported ads purchased programmatically can see conversion rates 4x higher than “those purchased using traditional methods.”[2] In short, programmatic media has proven to be an effective and powerful advertising technology to increase efficiency, ROI and campaign effectiveness.

Groundwork covered, let’s get into the heart of programmatic considerations for pharma marketers: ensuring brand safety and, ultimately, success.

Brand Safe Considerations for Pharma Marketers

Pharma marketers have the unique challenge of maximizing campaign performance while remaining safe and compliant. The below recommendations lay a firm foundation of compliance.

  1. Monitor Pages & Categories

There are a few different approaches to ensure ads serve in a brand safe environment. Implementing a safelist, or list of approved sites, prompts delivery only in permitted environments. This tactic can limit audience reach, however, and increase costs as you’re bidding against other advertisers for more premium placements.  Another option is using a “blocklist,” or list of denied sites, to avoid inappropriate placements. Some platforms allow the exclusion of entire categories altogether from ad spend, which can be particularly valuable when promoting products in sensitive categories. Both list types require ongoing management and neither is foolproof. While a site like The New York Times might be safe from a general site perspective, it’s possible for your ad to run adjacent to an unsavory article, such as negative pharmaceutical news.

2. Use a Brand Safety Partner

To further mitigate risk, consider a brand safety partner such as Doubleverify or Integral Ad Science. These technologies essentially vet impressions prior to delivery and can go as far as blocking your ad from serving alongside disagreeable content. These same partners can also safeguard against bot impressions, an ongoing challenge in the programmatic space.

3. Respect Data Privacy & Collection Regulations

Just as essential as serving ads in appropriate contexts is respecting to whom your ad is being served.  In the U.S., this ultimately boils down to adhering to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which began officially this past July, and understanding the implications of Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), which blocks cross-site tracking of 3rd party cookies and limits the lifespan of 1st party cookies.  Responsible marketers will also do well to follow the recently updated Network Advertising Initiative’s (NAI) Code of Conduct and its rules on data identifiability. These implications have made using pre-collected target lists particularly valuable with the added benefit of spending only on qualified audiences.

Maximize Performance & Minimize Waste

Programmatic media allows for a myriad of powerful and creative optimization techniques. Whether managing in-house or through a Demand Side Platform (DSP), these five optimizations will amplify success while minimizing wasted spend.

  • Pass conversion data to the DSP through pixels so that you can optimize towards concrete goals, like sign ups or pdf downloads.
  • Retarget segments of people who have already visited your site. Safely-retargeted visitors typically convert at higher rates because they’ve already demonstrated interest in your brand.
  • Leverage exclusionary pools to avoid wasting ad dollars on someone who has already converted on your site.
  • Create A/B or multivariate optimization test. Creative themes, landing pages, frequency/recency caps should be tested against each other to determine the most effective and streamlined paths to conversions. This test can extend as far as comparing the value of DSPs as many have different buying approached and proprietary algorithm capabilities.
  • Monitor the viewability of your ads and block websites garnering low viewability rates. The likelihood of your message registering or someone engaging with the banner decreases when the ad isn’t in view for long*, so maximize exposure on websites providing optimal ‘above the fold’ placements.

Together with brand safety measures, these tactics will also mitigate ad fraud, a rampant problem in the programmatic space. Employing ad attribution technology and paying by cost-per-acquisition (versus clicks and impressions) will further prevent questionable traffic.

From data driven media targeting to ever-expanding machine learning capabilities, programmatic media has emerged as a powerful tool in your promotional and educational media campaigns to reach and engage your critical stakeholders. Eventually, every digital pharmaceutical campaign will include a programmatic element.

Looking to incorporate programmatic into your next campaign? Let’s craft a winning strategy together.

For more programmatic insight, check out this post or request our exclusive POV tackling the shifting landscape of audience data collection. 


* IAB Definition of viewability: At least 50% of an ad must be in view for a minimum of one second for display ads

[1] MediaRadar Blog, “What Percentage of Brands Use Programmatic in Their Advertising Mix?”

[2] MediaRadar Blog, “What Percentage of Brands Use Programmatic in Their Advertising Mix?”

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