In Pharma Marketing, Programmatic Offers Solutions To The HIPAA Conundrum

No, consumers don’t want the cybersphere to know all about their hot flashes, E.D., or chronic dermatitis. And if you have Crohn’s Disease, you may not want that information to follow you wherever you go online.

That’s why when it comes to online privacy protection, pharma marketers face more restrictions than most. Regulations like HIPAA mandate that they can’t use first-party data to link identifiable individuals to medical conditions. And many forms of retargeting violate regulations on identifying users by their conditions.

So what’s a pharma marketer to do? Just serve up ads scattershot and hope exposed kids don’t ask awkward questions? With 71% of American adults searching for healthcare information online and 40% taking action based on the information discovered, there’s too much at stake to give up on good targeting.



Clearly, pharma companies have a message to get out there, a message that will resonate with and possibly benefit specific segments of people dealing with specific medical conditions. That’s why healthcare and pharma brands were predicted to invest $2.3 billion in digital advertising in 2017. And with the right approach to programmatic targeting, it is possible to reach the right audiences in a privacy-compliant way.

Online publishers are permitted to access data related to a consumer’s declared interest in specific conditions or symptoms as demonstrated by consumption of related content. Using that data, publishers can create segments of users interested in certain conditions and make those anonymous audiences available to pharma companies through programmatic pipelines.

It’s even possible to extend that targeting across devices. Once a publisher zeroes in on a user’s interest and links the user to an email address, the anonymized identity can then also be extended to a mobile device for programmatic advertising.

So, for example, if a drug manufacturer wants to target people who have diabetes, a publisher can create a segment of site visitors who have previously shown an interest in this topic by reading related content such as articles about testing blood sugar or low-glycemic diets. The publisher can then make that segment available to advertisers through a programmatic pipeline for purposes of targeting via display, video or mobile advertising.

Contextual targeting — running ads in conjunction with relevant healthcare content — remains a solid strategy for pharma, and geo-targeting is providing new creative opportunities on both display and social. Pharma brands can deliver relevant advertising to audiences in regions most affected by conditions like flu or Lyme Disease.

Marketers can activate campaigns to affected zip codes in real time and manage bidding based on related factors like weather or social media buzz. Similarly, by looking at data on the peak hours or days for drug sales, pharma marketers can manage campaign spending to synchronize with peak sales.

We all want healthcare privacy online. But at the same time, there are few industries where relevant targeting is as essential as it is in pharma. Using the right programmatic strategies, pharma marketers can strike a balance that gets information only to people who care, protects patient privacy, and delivers real business value.

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