Pharma’s Ad-diction—Our MarTech Rebirth and Robert Downey Jr.

Pharma marketing is a lot like Robert Downey Jr.

Before he was an addict, he was Chaplin. Before we got hooked on ads, we were brilliant too. Influence and content marketing were ours. That was long before Silicon Valley made them cool.

This is the story of our ad-diction. And, if RDJ is our proxy, our rebirth.

Pharma’s Drug Culture

Since there was media, we placed ads. A printed page here or there, “Come on. It builds brands. Everybody does it.” Reefer Madness stuff.

Then came the Internet. People were getting online. We placed a few digital ads there to show we were savvy. As the Internet took off, more and more people saw more and more of our ads. They clicked on them to go to more places. Even our branded places. To us, that proved they worked. Metaphors about rising tides be damned.

Digital ad “hits” are pharma’s drug culture. They’re cheaper than print ads. And, you could measure them. In the right state of mind, they overcome David Ogilvy’s 50% adage. We were hooked.

Every pusher had cheap stuff. Guys in fancy suits had the real goods. We cut them with ad tags. We jonesed to optimize them. Our ad ops team trafficked them. After a while, we did them 24/7. Ad tech even made them “programmatic” so we could reach anyone, anywhere.

Our designer ads got so nuanced, so targeted, they became passé. They barely sold. They didn’t inspire. The new direct response.

The Courage to Change the Things I Can

WebMD’s growth parallels the rise of digital health media. Its sale may mark the nadir. Our rock bottom. The road to recovery starts with an admission, not ad missions.

One oncology brand we know cut their ad spend by 80%. No more new ads. Creative, planning, and analytics agencies gone. Instead, they buy data and use it to inform their reps.

This echoes trends outside pharma. P&G cut Q2 ad spend by $140m. Sales rose 3%. Ad savings improved profits by 1%. Unilever shed half their agencies. Now, GSK plans to cut ads.

Another pharma company told us they’re “testing.” Simian style. They’re buying $2m of ads in media NOT picked by their agency. They want to see if those ads perform as well as “expert picks.”

Don’t laugh; this is Ivy League stuff. In 1973, a Princeton professor argued that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at the stock listings could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one selected by the experts.” Since then, the monkeys have won 40% of the time.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Downey overcame his destructive habits. He did a video, cut an album, and got back to making movies. With some Hollywood magic, he now delights us as Tony Stark. And as Sherlock Holmes. Both, blockbusters.

Like RDJ, we need to use our talents and return to our creative roots. Ditch our dark ad past. Delight our customers with content driven by their peers. And, we need to do it at scale.

Joe Shields, AZ’s innovation guru, says, “Awareness has become king again.” Try new things. Delight customers. Stand out. Be memorable.

For that, we need Stark tech. Or in our case, marketing tech. This differs from AdTech, which uses pooled data to place an ad where a target may see it. This place. This segment. This anonymized individual. Nearly in real-time. But as brands move beyond ads, MarTech moves with them. With it, brands can tell unique versions of their story that create value for each known customer.

MarTech uses more real content assets than ads. It knows the person and has a profile for him or her. It evolves the story for each person based on their actions in digital and personal promotional channels.

Veeva CRM email is a good example. Its tethered to the most-widely used CRM platform in pharma. Reps can trigger them. It uses a variety of assets and it personalizes the messaging based on a known user profile.

A recent DRG (Decision Resource Group) study showed that 68% of HCPs said reps detail them with “stale content.” MarTech can meet this challenge too, as it can also be used to put branded stories around fresh, curated content.

Melissa Larrazabal, Janssen Product Director put it this way, “Diabetes is a competitive field. So, yes, we use marketing technology to put our story in front of our customers in new ways. This program allowed us to understand not only ‘click throughs,’ but also what ‘motivated’ each HCP to engage. Knowing what message is more relevant and engaging for each of our customers allows us to have a competitive advantage.”

Those of us emerging from stupors know MarTech is about using data to inspire today. And, it’s about learning from today to inspire better tomorrow.

  • Charles Benaiah

    Charles Benaiah is the Chief Executive Officer of Watzan and a PM360 ELITE Entrepreneur. He spends his days running Watzan and thinking about ways to use technology to connect media, doctors, and brands.


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