Digital media veteran Bill Jennings saw an opportunity to provide advanced digital targeting for pharma marketers when he joined his company’s digital targeting technology with the technology of Spongecell, a company that turns standard web ads into interactive ad experiences. We talked to Bill about the collaboration with Spongecell and what it means to pharma marketers, the bright future of contextual targeted marketing—especially as marketers try to reach ever more specific niche markets—and how future programmatic buying technologies could be used to deliver niche market audiences at a far more cost efficient rate than even today’s technologies.

PM360: I understand you are an interactive sales veteran with 20 years of media sales management. You’ve worked for some very big names in the television industry. What precipitated your involvement with the health field—when did you get involved? Was it a natural progression?

Bill Jennings: I have been in digital media for 15 years and have led digital teams at large media companies including A&E TV Networks and venture capital backed startups like Flycast (CMGi), Lightingcast, Vitrue and Precision Health Media (PHM). Our company is very similar to Flycast and Lightningcast in that we have a unique technology that enables very precise, impactful targeting across hundreds of sites. I joined PHM not specifically to enter the health field, but rather because I saw a very powerful opportunity to provide advanced digital targeting for the pharma and CPG industries.

Please tell us about the recent partnership formed between your company, Precision Health Media and Spongecell? In other words, what brought your two companies together? Why?

We saw a very unique opportunity to combine the page-level targeting technology of our company with the power of Spongecell’s in-banner video solution, which is user initiated. Here’s why that’s important: One issue with pre-roll ads for pharma is that they typically have to be quite lengthy to contain a fair balance of information (i.e., side effects, etc.). Users may need to wait for 60 or even 90-second ads before viewing the actual video content. With Spongecell’s technology, a pharma video is initiated as the user “hovers over” the video creative. So the user is in control—with a higher level of interest—if they choose to watch the video. In fact, since the user is in control, pharma brands can air a fairly long video. So PHM’s technology identifies the pages focused on COPD, diabetes, MS, RA or weight loss and Spongecell’s technology enables the in-banner video solution.

Can you talk for a moment about programmatic buying and page buying? Do you see innovations here changing or impacting the pharma industry?

Clearly, programmatic buying is evolving as one of the major chapters in the history of digital media. Just a few years ago it was unthinkable for major media brands to participate in an auction for their unsold inventory. Now we see top publishers using SSPs and exchanges such as AppNexus to monetize portions of their inventory.

The pharma industry has not participated in programmatic buying as much as other categories since cookies and behavioral targeting, which programmatic relies heavily on, are essentially banned by most brands. But we have created a way to score content at the page level that does not use cookies. This platform focuses on the content and indexes pages that perform based on historical data. We can now access those pages either through direct placements or programmatically via integration with AppNexus—with transparency and collaboration with the agency.

And what about contextual targeted marketing? Do you think it is the next big thing in pharma marketing?

Pharma brands are increasingly looking to contextual digital media as major “blockbuster” drug launches are replaced by the pipeline of drugs focused on niche conditions. We feel contextual digital media will grow very rapidly. Digital health media has the ability to laser in on smaller patient groups and target multiple co-morbidities, specific DMAs and even target areas where an Rx brand is heavily prescribed. Digital’s value starts to surpass TV and print to target these niche patient populations. PHM significantly increases the amount of contextual inventory that is available for pharma.

In terms of contextual targeting, where do you think pharma will be a year from now? Five years from now, if you have your crystal ball available?

Contextual will continue to grow as health brands can access niche audiences at scales that match up with pharma’s product pipelines. We feel that by aggregating massive amounts of high-quality contextual digital inventory, pharma can achieve better ROI than simply using national TV.

Finally, how do you work with agencies to ensure successful campaigns?

We work very closely with agencies to understand a brands’ goals. Our platform functions best when several key phrases or co-morbidities are required. It ranks the pages in the data warehouse based on these inputs. So if a brand is targeting diabetics who also have high cholesterol, the platform finds those pages that have the best mix of content. During the campaign, our account managers suggest optimization to the agency when they see sites performing better than others via our dashboard. Continuous optimization usually insures better performance than a single health portal, as we are constantly seeking better performing pages.

Is there anything we haven’t touched upon that you would like to add?

Pharma brands are shifting budgets to digital at a rapid rate, and new targeting technologies including programmatic buying options will deliver niche audiences at a far more cost efficient rate. Brands will always use resource centers and sponsorships to some extent but, increasingly, digital technology will allow pharma to target patient groups more efficiently. With programmatic buying predicted to account for over 30% of display in just a few years, pharma will seek safe ways to use exchanges and non-cookie-based data for efficiencies.

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