Feb 7, 2018

Digital surpassed television as the most invested-in channel in 2017 and will continue to widen the gap year over year until at least 2020 (eMarketer, 2016). So why is Healthcare still reliant on TV? 

With this seemingly ever-increasing share of marketing dollars being spent to reach phones, tablets, PCs and other connected devices, it would be fair to assume that industries which are highly evolved, technically driven, and innovation led, would be blazing the trail in taking advantage of the efficiency and targeting capabilities of digital marketing. And, in many cases, they are including industries such as financial services, consumer electronics, and telecom/media where digital has become the core of the business and marketing dollars have followed. Others industries like retail*, automotive and CPG have significantly shifted their marketing focus to be digitally led while their business models have remained largely physical (*save for Amazon).

Healthcare, however, remains heavily reliant on traditional channels, specifically television, to drive awareness and encourage consumers to “ask their doctor.” Despite digital’s growing dominance of the media marketplace, Healthcare - Pharma specifically - has been slow to fully embrace the banner ad, the search engine and the social post. Don’t get me wrong, there is some truly innovative and amazing work being done by pharmaceutical companies and agencies to lead the digital and data space in healthcare marketing. But, on the whole when it comes to marketing to consumers, Pharma just prefers television. According to Kantar, in 2016 digital represented just 8% of the media pie, or $515 million, down by .2% from 2015!


An important wrinkle to this puzzle; when Pharma markets itself to Healthcare Professionals, digital is a core channel. According to 2017 MM&M/Guidemark Health Healthcare Marketers Trend Report, digital represents 14.2% compared to 5.2% for TV, print and radio.


So one must ask….why is Big Pharma using digital to reach Healthcare Professionals but not consumers? Is Pharma leary about using too much data to target end users? Privacy regarding consumer healthcare data is certainly tricky, but I would hypothesize that digital offers efficiencies over TV without encroaching on PII (personally identifiable information). There’s enough demo and behavior data available to run highly efficient digital campaigns without having to know the particular illness of an individual consumer.


The bottom line: Pharma companies and their agency partners clearly see value in the reach and impact that television offers and will continue to invest heavily until the model breaks, pharmaceutical margins drop or the core audience they reach through TV shifts to a more digitally-centric lifestyle.