After its userbase declined in 2018, Snapchat bounced back in Q1 2019 with a 2% increase from the previous quarter—reaching 190 million active users. As Snap tries to attract more users, it is also courting new business opportunities. In February, the company sent representatives to DigiPharma Connect to encourage pharma marketers to use their platform, according to CNBC. But should pharma embrace Snapchat? We asked readers how pharma could best use Snapchat—or if they should even bother.
The company’s pitch deck says that Snapchat users are “more likely to treat and diagnose” a number of conditions, including arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and migraines. It also points out that Snapchat can offer access to younger consumers.
According to Snapchat’s data, 34% of the 81 million North American users who use Snapchat daily are between the ages of 18 and 24, and 26% are between the ages of 25 to 34. As reported by CNBC, which reviewed a pitch deck from the social media company, Snapchat is making the case that it offers “a more comfortable place for users to talk about their sensitive health conditions, ranging from excessive sweating to sexually transmitted infections.”
All types of pharma campaigns can be adapted to Snapchat provided that you also adapt your tone and design to fit its young audience. Anything from vaccination to birth control pills can work.
If you are looking for viable options to Snapchat, YouTube is one place to go to make more detailed, long-form videos that could result in more engagement—helping customers in the long run.
Snapchat has been courting pharma marketers with a differentiated positioning and ad offering for about a year now. Klick has worked on some Snapchat campaigns and found positive results with little overhead.
PEW Research from 2019 shows Snapchat and Instagram essentially neck-and-neck for the 18-24 demographic with similar reach (73% vs. 75%, respectively) and daily usage patterns (61% vs. 63%). So it’s a tight race and we encourage pharma marketers to use both, but, if you can only choose one, which should it be?
Both have similar (but not identical) reach in the younger demographics and good inventories to handle mid-scale budgets. When it comes to control over comments, Snapchat has the upper hand with more options that are completely comment-free. So, if that is your primary concern then check out Snapchat. When it comes to targeting, both Facebook and Instagram share the same industry-leading ad management platform, so Instagram wins there. If extension of an existing Facebook campaign is your goal, then Instagram is likely the better choice.
Snapchat could work well for an unbranded campaign that has a strong emotional component and speaks directly to health concerns that matter to the demographic that uses the platform. For instance, someone with psoriasis sharing her coping strategies during a flare up—this is the type of emotional and truth-telling content that inspires Snapchat users and would have the most success on the platform.
The casual nature of Snapchat is another consideration for pharma marketers. Brands can use ad units that drive back to a website to provide more information, but unless those ads speak the way Snapchat users talk to their friends, it’s questionable that a user would click through to the site. Influencers such as Kylie Jenner have successfully captivated their Snapchat audiences by adopting the casual nature of the platform and always providing a look behind the curtain. As the platform continues to make advertising approachable for pharma companies, it will become a network that’s further explored and tested. However, brands will need to get comfortable sharing content in a casual manner to see long-term results and impact.
Advertising on Snapchat offers marketers unique benefits. Roughly 31% of Snapchat’s users cannot be reached on other platforms. Also, Snapchatters over index on common medical conditions and are more likely than average to have health insurance. These statistics and Snapchat’s lack of infinity metrics (there is no persistent comment environment) make the platform ideal for reaching niche audiences about sensitive subjects.
Pharma advertisers can target prospects with a custom audience list and promote Snap ads with an auto-fill form swipe up to capture lead information. Snapchat provides a pixel that allows the brand to track actions throughout the funnel. For more informal activations, an advertiser could create a custom filter or AR lens to drive awareness toward a tentpole that aligns with their brand (i.e., American Heart Month, Purple Day, or Breast Cancer Awareness Month). The campaign could be geo-fenced to locations such as hospitals or treatment centers and would allow for sharing between users.
Reddit is another underutilized platform with a unique value proposition for promoting FDA-approved products to a niche audience in a more private setting. Advertisers can target specific subreddit threads and geos with promoted posts to reach niche groups of highly engaged users.
With Snapchat, as with any other marketing decision, pharma must determine whether its target audiences align to the demographics. In this instance, the channel might make more sense for conditions with a sizable younger population, such as cystic fibrosis or inflammatory bowel disease, as compared to, say, COPD and bladder cancer.
From a content perspective, Snapchat is more raw, less refined, and less edited than, say, Instagram. This contributes to Snapchat being a preferred channel for younger audiences. Any campaign should keep the imagery and messaging “real” in line with the platform to maintain credibility.
In this context, marketers could work with everyday people—not influencers, who may be considered biased—to create “day in the life” Snapchat campaigns that show the intricacies of living with a specific condition. Real scenarios could include snapping a picture of their dimmed living room setup to decrease the chance of migraines or show them taking a quick jog before their asthma symptoms set in. Even with the months of regulatory approval that would be required, the snaps would still be “real.” And snaps that include relatable people sharing familiar experiences will prove the brand understands what it’s like to live with a specific condition.
Snapchat is still figuring out how they want to play in the pharma space, and they are experiencing some growing pains as they do so. We ran our first Snapchat campaign in May 2018—the first to do so for clinical trials—and it took nearly nine months to get them to adjust their internal regulations to allow clinical trial advertisement. For us, it has been well worth the investment.
Snap ads are non-disruptive, passive, engaging, and for the most part unskippable. These ads don’t share the screen with anything else, so viewers aren’t distracted by what’s above or below the content they’re served. This is ideal for both awareness campaigns and targeted conversion campaigns, if the demographics are right. Since the platform doesn’t allow comments, sponsors’ main privacy concern is automatically managed, with no opportunities for adverse events.
Despite the (many) pros, Snapchat is still not a perfect medium. The main barrier: It’s difficult to reach anyone over 35. With Snapchat, we can reach a unique, younger audience we wouldn’t have reached on Facebook or Instagram, but the lack of older users limits the total audience size and prevents us from scaling campaigns at the same volume as with more traditional platforms.
If approached strategically, Snapchat holds a real opportunity for pharma to capture audiences (from ages 13-24) they are not currently engaging.
The first step in speaking to an unfamiliar audience is to recruit them. Frankly, nobody with gray hair should be creating a Snapchat campaign. A great Snapchat campaign will be developed by Snapchat users. Next, while this audience is not generally concerned with health issues, they should be made aware of ones such as obesity, higher risk of stroke, sexually transmitted diseases, binge drinking and liver disease, overuse of tech, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and diet fads. Utilize data along with real patients telling their stories. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) should be used harshly. After all, a strong dose of reality could save, extend, or improve actual lives.
In addition to educating the audience on health concerns, pharma should invest in campaigns to improve the “evil corporation” perception. Such ads could incorporate real executives (the younger the better) and employees speaking directly to millennials about issues they care about. What are you doing (other than making profits) to improve the state of healthcare? What societal issues and causes does your company care about? What philanthropic ventures is your company involved in?
The key is not trying to force your brand onto a platform but leveraging a platform because it’s unique capabilities and characteristics are the perfect vehicle for delivering your message. For instance, Snaps are meant to drive conversations, which quickly disappear without a trace. This empowers users to self-identify with a cause, share personal stories, and communicate efficiently and privately.
This leads to a perfect opportunity for pharma: Generating social awareness around issues that carry a stigma. Think sexual health issues, teen pregnancy, and medical conditions such as depression. Brands can create sponsored stories and in-app ads that encourage users to create content and share their stories—and, more importantly, offer a support line. Brands could potentially offer one-on-one conversations, using Snaps as a language an audience understands that won’t leave a record. Snapchat has the potential to offer private disease awareness education in a way that no other channel can.
Another use-case is promoting awareness for conditions that could use a good shot of empathy. Severe migraines is a condition often dismissed by peers. A branded treatment could sponsor a paid story and create custom AR filters that allow others to see the world through the sufferer’s eyes.
Snapchat has begun to reclaim its next-gen social star with new subscribers and new momentum that includes bold appeals to healthcare marketers.
By evolution or design, Snapchat’s environment compels serious consideration for social engagement:
- No page or profile required to advertise means a low barrier to entry.
- Commenting is off by default, and no vanity metrics enables pharma to target consumers one-on-one.
- Videos up to 180 seconds can be a good fit for branded ISI.
- 41% of Snapchatters ask for personal advice on the platform, implying a more empathetic place to serve brand messaging.
Snapchat positions itself as the “friendlier social network,” reaching a younger, actively engaged demographic that includes many millennials and all centennials who are only on Snapchat. If pharma isn’t reaching them through Snapchat, they aren’t being reached.
At the same time, a pharma brand providing positive education and messaging on Snapchat now establishes a future state of influence (aka ROI) for those centennials as they age into caring more about healthcare and start making decisions in the future. One challenge will be for pharma brands, often formal in tone, to find a voice in sync with the “hanging out” spirit of Snapchat.
Snapchat has been gradually evolving into a viable channel for pharma, and we’re working with them to explore ways they can improve. Currently best suited for disease-state awareness promotion, the mobile platform offers an excellent opportunity to reach a highly engaged audience, mainly composed of teenagers and young adults. Advancing beyond broad awareness to cost-effectively target niche audiences without much waste is where Snapchat lags behind the competition.
The introduction of the Snapchat pixel in late 2017 was a big step in the right direction, as this pixel allows advertisers to build website retargeting audiences and better measure campaign performance. However, website retargeting is just a small piece of the puzzle for most pharma advertisers that are clamoring for more.
With data privacy, advertiser transparency, and conversations with negative sentiments regularly gaining attention in the news cycle, it’s appealing for the pharma industry to be able to leverage ad units that don’t allow for commenting, while promoting in a positive environment. Snapchat supports a wide variety of campaign objectives that align well with many media objectives. If their targeting capabilities can advance to rival competitors, I see Snapchat being embraced by pharma advertisers in coming years.
Not many drugs are marketed for millennials and Gen Zers, but a high probability is people from these generations are caring for someone who needs those drugs. Millennials and Gen Zers are more likely to embrace a brand or company when it speaks directly to them. What better way to do that than creating a relationship by associating a brand or pharmaceutical company with helping a loved one?
I will use Merck’s Keytruda as an example for a hypothetical Snapchat ad. The 15-second ad will appear between all the Snapchat explore page content, including Daily Mail, ESPN, LADbible, IGN Fix, Barstool Sports, Cosmo Stories, etc. The advertisement will be a young man and woman sitting next to each other in a hospital. In the shot is a busy hallway, nurses and doctors speedily bustling left and right, but the young man and woman are stagnant. Their hands over their faces, slumped over, sobbing. To the left is a room. The door is open, but the room is pitch black dark.
Words appear on the screen in bright green: “When cancer effects a loved one, it effects everyone.” Then, “But you don’t have to lose a loved one.” Finally, the Merck logo appears on the bottom of the screen along with a sentence saying, “Swipe up now to learn more.” This link would bring the user to a site that would introduce Keytruda, state what it does, and the risks and benefits associated with it.
Despite Snapchat’s potential in other sectors, it’s likely not a perfect fit for pharma. Three key reasons to take a wait-and-see approach:
1. Audience behaviors indicate they’re not in a “healthcare” frame of mind on the platform: Snapchat mainly consists of millennials, and academic research revealed the most common use-cases for snaps were sending “funny content” (59.8%), “photos/videos of myself” (62.5%), or “joke sexting” (23.6%).
2. The platform is mismatched to typical pharma strategic imperatives: The “Snap experience” is predicated upon self-destructing information. The model has evolved from person-to-person photo sharing to monetized/sponsored “Stories;” “Discover” mode for brands; and filters, lenses, and stickers that can be applied for visual effects—but these types of programs are generally off-strategy for brands looking to build disease awareness, provide patient support, or drive CRM efforts.
3. “Social saturation:” The number of healthcare social media profiles and the volume of content the industry produced last year remained flat—there was no significant growth. Only audience followership grew, meaning companies and brands need their content strategies to work harder to keep up engagement before expanding their footprints in new/exotic channels.