Facebook Finally Friends Pharma Marketers

Posted by Liz Puzio from Ogilvy CommonHealth - Parsippany, North America on January 30, 2017


No one disputes the importance of Facebook to marketers and consumers alike, but in 2016, the social media leader actively pursued a more prominent role within the advertising budgets of the pharma industry. Here’s a look at three ways Facebook made strides toward that goal and gave healthcare marketers new avenues to engage with consumers:

New Ad Features. Facebook ads work well on mobile, deploy fast and are budget-friendly. In other words, they still have a lot going for them in spite of snafus involving metrics. Facebook debuted two new ad features in 2016 that are of particular interest to healthcare marketers. The first allows prescription drug ads to run with a scrolling ISI and stay within the guidelines for photo and text limits. The second feature is a “Call Now” button. Bayer made use of both features in an ad for a multiple sclerosis drug this fall. The ad for Betaseron included a Call Now button that directed consumers to a line staffed by nurses and ran during specific weekday hours. Consumers could also click to sign up for more information right from within the ad by using their Facebook logins.


The campaign proved very successful. The cost per lead decreased by 96%, and the nursing staff at the call center got overwhelmed by the number of calls. The marketing director on this project says the whole process, ideation through publishing, took about four weeks. A good relationship with Medical/Legal/Regulatory was cited as key to the success of this fast-tracked campaign. The marketing director gave his MLR team a Facebook 101 lesson and even set up Facebook accounts for MLR colleagues who didn’t already have personal accounts. This is a great example of why it’s important to brief MLR early on in a project and treat them as partners, not adversaries. 

Clinical Trial Recruitment. A new area of Facebook advertising for healthcare brands and research foundations is recruitment for clinical trials. Recently, a nonprofit partnered with Indiana University on a Parkinson’s study that looked at a hereditary form of the disease. They needed to find people with a specific ethnic background and genetic predisposition. The nonprofit, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, used Facebook ads to reach users by interest and geography. They were looking for Facebook users who had two specific traits in their profile: an interest in Jewish culture and topics, and proximity to one of the study sites.


The average cost of recruiting through Facebook was $35 per person vs. the average of $800 Indiana University normally spends on their recruiting efforts for clinical trials. The program was a big hit. The results were a 33% increase in the number of people who enrolled in the pilot study and a 96% decrease in recruitment costs. The takeaway here is that Facebook can be extremely effective when targeting a specific audience. The question for a lot of brands, especially healthcare brands, is: How well do you actually know your audience?

Unbranded Community Pages. Another potential area of growth for healthcare marketers on Facebook is unbranded pages. Unbranded community pages are not new. In fact, there are some really successful unbranded pages out there already. AstraZeneca’s Save Your Breath page for people living with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD has about 100,000 members. Quitter’s Circle from Pfizer, a page dedicated to helping smokers kick their habit, has almost 160,000 members. What’s new is Facebook’s push to produce paid promotion around these pages and to engage more with healthcare brands in their creation. Facebook now counts 1.79 billion monthly users, and according to the Pew Research Center, about 66% of users come to the site looking for news.


Marketers can tap into a highly engaged audience by targeting consumers based on their specific interests, people they follow and pages they’ve liked, as well as their age, gender and device. Unbranded community pages sponsored by drug companies are likely going to grow as spending on unbranded campaigns, in general, increases. Nielsen research shows that the pharma industry spent $171 million on unbranded ads in 2016. That’s a 15% increase from 2015.

What’s Next? The Ogilvy Key Digital Trends 2017 report cites a “video-first world” as one of the top trends to watch. This is a phrase straight out of the Facebook founder’s own mouth. Back in July 2016 Mark Zuckerberg told investors: “We see a world that is video-first with video at the heart of all our apps and services.” Facebook Live is going to be the centerpiece of that push and is actually already seeing traction within pharma. Last September, actress and rapper Queen Latifah and her mother took part in a panel on Facebook Live to raise awareness around heart disease and heart failure as part of the Rise Above partnership with Novartis and the American Heart Association. Two of the most active groups on the site are moms and baby boomers. Parents are said to spend 1.3 times more time on Facebook mobile than non-parents. Mark Zuckerberg has called Facebook the “new town hall” and estimates that the social media giant’s "Register to Vote" link helped more than 2 million people register in 2016. Those kind of numbers help bolster Facebook’s claim that it is the place for content discovery and information.