Studies Show Digital Pharma Soaring, Point-Of-Care Ads Most Trustworthy

Pharma companies are following the  trend toward digital advertising.

In fact, digital’s share of pharma marketing spend increased from 6% in 2018 to 22% in 2022, according to an Axtria analysis of 140 marketing mix studies across 70 brands spanning 19 therapy areas.

Over those five years, average digital spend per brand surged from $4.5 million in 2018 to $24 million in 2022, Axtria found.

Banner ads, display ads and alerts rose from $4.1 million per brand in 2018 to $13.3 million in 2022, paid search from $2.1 million to $5.1 million and social media from $1.3 million to $5.0 million, while email, holding fairly steady from $400,000 to $600,000, remained “a valuable tool for reminders and general information,” Axtria said.

Return on investment trends differed greatly between mature brands and growth brands, the company said, with mature brands showing “moderate” gains across all digital channels and growth brands sometimes showing “dramatic” ROI growth for email and social media.



In marketing categories beyond digital, TV spend rose from 10% share of marketing dollars in 2018 to 12% in 2022. And, not surprisingly in light of COVID, the share of spending on conferences dropped from 10% to 2% over the five-year-period.

Despite digital’s rise as a tool to reach healthcare providers, the top marketing tool in that regard remained the field force channel (salespeople) whether face-to-face or virtual, Axtria said. It accounted for 69% of marketing spend in 2018, although dropping to 62% in 2022.

Over the next three years, Axtria projects that field force marketing spend will grow just 3.2% annually, with digital spend increasing at 6.5%.

One marketing category that doesn’t show up in the Axtria report is consumer advertising in the offices of healthcare providers (HCP). But IPG Mediabrands’ Magna Media Trials and point-of-care platform PatientPoint have just released results of a joint consumer study showing, -- you guessed it pharma ads in HCP offices outperform all other media channels and resources when it comes to consumer trust.

HCP settings were cited as a most trusted source of health information by 55% of 1,517 survey respondents, followed by websites and online health portals (50%), friends or family (29%), health insurance providers (22%), government health agencies (20%), health and wellness blogs (16%), social media (16%) and healthcare apps (15%).

While HCPs were the most trusted source across generations, the percentages decreased as the respondents got younger, from 87% for boomers to 54% for adult Gen Z-ers.

In fact, the study found that while boomers are a prime target of healthcare brands, the demographic has “very low preference for TV ads, with the HCP’s office far and away the most powerful touchpoint.

The top reason given for trusting TV ads was that “the information they convey is educational” while the top reason for trusting social media channels was transparency.

“These results point to the possibility of enhanced advertising outcomes based on the right mix of messaging and a cross-channel strategy,” Magna and PatientPoint said, suggesting that pharma marketers use the in-office environment in conjunction with social media to reach Gen Z, and in conjunction with pharma or brand website ads to reach millennials, Gen X and boomers.

And here’s cost-saving food for thought: “Pharma brands could be more effective with less frequent advertising,” the companies said, “and by emphasizing clear, transparent messaging designed for education and actionable purposes.”

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