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Should Pharma Marketers Bid on Competitors’ Keywords?

How to increase optimal qualified audience reach using a competitor’s name

What if your website were foregoing much of its potential qualified traffic because you were not bidding on keywords used by your target audience? Pharma marketers may be concerned that serving an ad to someone who searched for a competing brand implies they have identical indications, creating the appearance of off-label promotion. Here we’ll see when to avoid bidding on competitors’ brand terms, and how to do it correctly when appropriate.

Based on its outsized and ever-growing role in driving digital engagement for pharma, paid search should be the last place brands accept compromise when it comes to effective, transparent marketing. But with search engine marketing (SEM) long in the bullseye of regulatory scrutiny over marketing in space-constrained environments, prudence is warranted.

There are important principles that govern the responsible use of keywords in the context of paid search campaigns – some are grounded in simple common sense, while others provoke healthy debate and deliberation.

When to avoid bidding on competitors’ brand terms

  • Drugs for unrelated indications should not be used as keywords, just as those indications themselves would not be appropriate.
  • A brand should take care not to bid on the name of a competitor approved for both its own indication and a separate, unrelated one.
  • Avoid bidding on the names of competing drugs that treat the same general disease state, but with non-overlapping indications. If your product treats breast cancer associated with BRCA 1 mutations while a competitor treats breast cancer with PTEN mutations, then patients using the competing drug are not an appropriate audience for yours.

When it’s appropriate to bid on competitors’ brand terms

Matching pharma ad copy to search terms for competing pharma brand names. The competing brand’s indication dictates the compliant options for ad copy.

When making decisions about competitive conquesting, it is often helpful to compare it to a print placement. Placing a women’s health treatment ad in a magazine read by 18 to 35-year-old women clearly does not imply all readers are appropriate patients for the treatment. Serving paid search ads in response to broad queries about a disease state also does not effectively “broaden the indication.” On the other end of the spectrum, it would raise eyebrows to place a first-line, early stage breast cancer treatment ad in a publication exclusively dedicated to stage 4 metastatic breast cancer research.

The targeting criteria selected may improve the composition of the audience reached within the means provided by the respective channels. It’s up to the ad copy to present the approved, balanced message in a compliant fashion.

When people who have a reason to search for a competing brand also have a reason to know about our brand, then the competitor’s name could be an appropriate keyword.

Wanting more digital pharma insight? Access my whitepaper for examples of current best practices, case studies and anecdotes illustrating real-world applications of all 8 principals for digital pharma marketing success.

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