Choose your own adventure (2024)

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Choose your own adventure (2024)

We at Med Ad News don’t claim to know all the questions. So we challenged our contributors to come up with their own questions and answer them.

By Joshua Slatko | [email protected] 

How can agencies help clients better evaluate their promotional ecosystem ROI?

Helping our clients understand the ROI of each component of their promotional ecosystem is a key focus of our agency for 2024.

AbelsonTaylor Group has invested significantly in our market intelligence capabilities, and we are using a proprietary model to illuminate effectiveness of literally dozens of promotional components and how they impact end user decision-making as part of an integrated marketing program.

Navigating the pharmaceutical marketing world with our multi-touch attribution model isn’t all that different than when I was analyzing a basketball game as the coach of my daughter’s middle school travel team, where understanding every play that led to a basket is crucial. Just like in basketball, where the player scoring the basket isn’t the sole hero, multi-touch attribution recognizes that the final interaction before a conversion – the basket-
scoring moment in marketing – isn’t the only contributor to success.

Imagine this: a doctor first notices an ad for a new medication. It’s as attention-grabbing as a flashy basketball jersey. Next, the doctor tunes into an educational webinar, engaging like a coach’s motivational speech during a timeout. Finally, the persuasion slam dunk: a discussion with a sales rep that clinches the prescription decision. This rep is as convincing as a point guard expertly setting up a play. Multi-touch attribution gives kudos to each of these key moments, acknowledging that scoring the basket (or securing the prescription) is a team effort.

In this arena, allocating marketing budgets becomes less about making a wild half-court shot and more about strategic plays. It’s like a coach analyzing player stats to decide who should take the next shot. By identifying which tactics – digital ads, webinars, face-to-face meetings – yield the highest ROI, marketers can manage their budgets with the precision of a well-executed basketball play.

Multi-touch attribution also unveils the synergy between different marketing channels. It might show that a combination of email campaigns and in-person events works together like a guard and forward executing a perfect pick-and-roll, leading to a score. This insight is invaluable for strategizing marketing tactics that complement each other, much like players on a basketball court.

Moreover, multi-touch attribution provides insights into different regions and demographics, ensuring that marketing messages are as tailored as a team’s game plan against different opponents. This ensures that messages resonate with the audience as effectively as a three-pointer swishes through the net.

In summary, multi-touch attribution equips pharmaceutical marketers to appreciate not just the player who scored the basket but the entire play that made it possible. It’s like having a courtside view of the game, understanding each player’s contribution, and optimizing the team’s overall strategy. With multi-touch attribution, pharmaceutical marketing becomes a well-coordinated game where every move is deliberate, and each team member’s role is vital – all contributing to the exhilarating moment when the ball swooshes through the hoop.

– Eric Densmore, senior VP, strategy and business development, AbelsonTaylor


As pharma gets comfortable with online influencers, social media volatility creates a new Wild West

2023 was arguably the most volatile year in social media’s history: Elon Musk’s very public dismantling of the artist formerly known as Twitter, explosive growth on TikTok in the face of looming national bans, and platforms like Threads, BeReal, and Lemon8 losing momentum after being heralded as the next big thing tested the resolve of health marketers.

All this has left social media feeling like the wild west again, at a time when pharma and health marketing on social is at its most sophisticated. 2024 will mark the ten year anniversary since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its first (and at the time, very long awaited) social media guidelines and the industry has grown increasingly comfortable with these channels, building precedent and case studies that finally have health marketers creating campaigns on par with traditionally flashier industries.

This, paired with the rise of credible health voices who have established online presences, and the 2022 release of influencer best practices from the FDA, means influencer partnerships are firmly implanted in more and more marketing plans. Platforms like Meta, TikTok, and LinkedIn have caught on and become increasingly brand friendly with tools that make influencer partnerships easier and more transparent.

However, just when we have the answers, all the questions change. The influencer landscape remains a territory that requires expert navigation. For every authoritative dermatologist providing skin care advice, there are a hundred uncredentialed fitness influencers sharing health and diet information. The emergence of AI influencers that blur the line between human experience and art has created a new wave of accountability for influencer marketing. And regulatory bodies are taking notice.

Every marketer in the pharma space is beholden to the dual F’s, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the latter checked influencer marketing off its to-do list in 2023. The FTC finalized an update to its guidance on how businesses disclose when influencers, consumers and celebrities are paid to promote or discuss their products. But actions speak louder than words. The regulatory body also issued over a dozen warning letters to online influencers, dieticians, and trade associations over a failure to properly disclose influencer content that positively discussed aspartame, the FTC’s strongest warning shot about influencer health claims to date.

And the FDA is monitoring these channels just as closely. For the second year in a row, we saw the FDA issue a warning related to a viral TikTok about improper food handling. While the agency has yet to deliver consequences for a prescription product on the platform, it has issued a number of warnings surrounding dangerous TikTok trends involving OTC medicines.

TikTok can be a truly great place for health information – during her last pregnancy, my wife learned as much from #BirthTok than from her OB/GYN. But it’s also riddled with unchecked claims and discussion of off-label drug usage that can be dangerous for brands and consumers alike.

In the year of the GLP-1, this became abundantly clear. Not since Bob Dole first appeared on a Viagra commercial in 1998 or Botox showed up on Real Housewives has a drug, like Ozempic, so quickly penetrated pop culture. Not only has this led to endless opinions about these products, but has created a false confidence for non-clinical influencers and consumers to discuss prescription products in an unregulated space.

Perhaps unrelated, the FDA also updated its guidance on communication of off-label uses last year, 10 years after its last update. Maybe 2024 is the year FDA also revisits its decade-old social media guidance.

The Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP)has conducted a number of studies on influencer disclosure over the past few years. OPDP commissioned a study in 2020 examining the impact of celebrity and influencer endorsements, as well as payment disclosure, in DTC advertising is awaiting peer review and publication imminently. In April, OPDP added an extension of that study to the Federal Register. If you subscribe to the theory that OPDP research may suggest an area of future enforcement for the agency, it may be something to keep an eye on.

– Michael DiSalvo, executive growth and innovation, Ogilvy Health


How can agencies create an environment to produce their best work?

By consciously embracing a culture of psychological safety, agencies can cultivate an environment that not only produces the best work but also maximizes the full potential of a diverse team.

At its core, workplace psychological safety establishes a sanctuary of inclusion and an incubator of innovation; it thrives on and rewards vulnerability. In an agency like AbelsonTaylor Group, our success is gauged by the generation of outstanding strategic and creative ideas and where people’s minds and insights constitute the tangible product of the company’s offering. Therefore, it is paramount to foster an environment wherein every team member feels confident expressing ideas, asking questions, and voicing concerns. This atmosphere encourages the exploration of all insights and creative ideas, irrespective of title or function.

An agency’s output is not merely the result of an individual’s effort but rather a collaborative effort involving a team of diverse individuals, ranging from left-brain data scientists and strategists to right-brain creatives. Together, they bring their unique expertise and insights to formulate a comprehensive strategy and creative campaign  and media, measurement, and engagement plans. Psychological safety catalyzes this collaboration by ensuring that each team member can contribute their perspectives openly, creating a rich tapestry of ideas that build on each other and ultimately drives the agency’s success. In essence, fostering psychological safety is not just a practice but also a strategic imperative that fuels creativity, collaboration, and the overall success of an advertising agency in an ever-evolving landscape.

– Jeanine Koch, VP, project and resource management, AbelsonTaylor


How can pharma marketers help provide health equity?

As an account planner, I review volumes of research to evaluate observations and uncover insights that drive powerful change. One issue I’ve keyed in on that is likely be a large driver of change in 2024 is health equity. Creating health equity for all patients is structural issue that focuses on several topics:

  • Healthcare delivery system
  • Payment
  • Social determinants of health and social needs
  • Implementation
  • Access

However, in 2024, I expect to see a focus on how marketing can play a crucial role in improving health equity and removing the bias in health care for impacted populations.

U.S. marketers can execute on this by placing the patient at the center of our work using all available tools. Having a true understanding of how these patients live, think, and interact enables us to identify unique customer segments and reach these patients with inspiring messages and helpful resources. The goal is to ensure that each patient is exposed to marketing efforts that feel designed for them – to make them feel seen and heard. A few tools that I plan to use this year to continue to keep the patient at the center of my work are the following.

  • Advanced research tools: In the past year my team and I began to experiment with new research tools to continually improve our best practices. We’ve discovered one such tool that enables us to conduct qualitative and quantitative research projects in tandem with each other. Often times, budget or timing can be constraints to research, however this option allows us to utilize both qualitative and quantitative research options simultaneously to maximize insight discovery.
  • AI: New and innovative AI tools are seemingly rolled out daily. My team has begun efforts to bolster our patient journey/milestone work, social listening, and patient segment creation by using AI.
  • Experience: The data that is most crucial to me are the results of the changes I will implement this year. Much like a surgeon, I want to create a repeatable approach for brands and patients that encounter a similar issue. However, unlike a surgeon, there are many factors at play in my marketing sphere. It is my goal to understand which of my new tactics, which of my new tools, and what new strategies are making a meaningful difference in achieving my brand’s goals, and also improving health equity for impacted populations.

– Gage Sanders, account planner, AbelsonTaylor


How will the increasing focus on sustainability and environmental impact influence pharma marketing strategies?

Environmental concerns are becoming more crucial for consumers, including in healthcare. Pharma marketers will need to integrate sustainable practices and messaging into their strategies, highlighting eco-friendly manufacturing processes and packaging, as well as the overall carbon footprint of their products.

– Amar Singh, senior director, & Mary Brett Whitfield, senior VP retail insights, Kantar


How will concern over the cost of and access to healthcare products and services shape shopping behavior?

Shoppers are increasingly likely to cite the increasing cost of healthcare and access to healthcare products, services, and insurance as influencing their current and anticipated future shopping behaviors. Kantar ShoperScape research identifies nearly six in 10 shoppers as “healthcare concerned” — that is, extremely concerned about healthcare costs, access, and/or coverage. The key barrier to healthcare access as reported by shoppers is finding a doctor that accepts the shoppers’ insurance. Access related to general practitioners tends to be as prevalent as concerns about insurance, and both outweigh concerns related to access to medical specialists. Shoppers most concerned about healthcare access or costs are responding by doubling down on retailers where they have membership and/or loyalty rewards and discounts. Interest in food as medicine, natural and homeopathic treatments, and OTC medicines and supplements will increase as shoppers rely on themselves to diagnose, treat, and manage their family’s symptoms and conditions in the face of rising healthcare costs and growing challenges to accessing healthcare.

– Amar Singh, senior director, & Mary Brett Whitfield, senior VP retail insights, Kantar