Its fortunes dented by Facebook, Snapchat is looking to cozy up to a lucrative base of potential clients — pharma marketers — by billing itself as a friendlier alternative to the world’s largest social network.

As reported by CNBC, which reviewed a pitch deck from the Los Angeles-based 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.”

While Snapchat is far more robust and public a platform than it was when it launched as an app for sharing disappearing photos with friends, it still makes it easier for users to share with each other privately and the company doesn’t have the reputational problems Facebook does around privacy.

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 the fact 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.

The not-so-subtle message to pharma marketers: Snapchat isn’t Facebook and its unique characteristics could make it a more effective platform for direct-to-consumer engagement.

Embracing Technology in Digital Marketing: Pharma and Healthcare

New year, same story?

Of course, while Snapchat appears to be making a concerted effort to appeal to pharma marketers, its 2019 pitch to pharma is not exactly a new one. Many of its key differentiators, such as the more private nature of its platform and younger audience, have been talked about in the context of pharma marketing for years.

Yet while pharma giants such as Merck have run campaigns on Snapchat, Facebook has continued to capture the bulk of pharma marketers’ social ad spend for a simple reason: it offers the largest audience.

But should pharma marketers start thinking a little less about reach?

Even if Snapchat’s efforts to lure more pharma marketing dollars prove less effective than the company hopes, there are aspects of the pitch that pharma marketers have good reason to pay attention to.

Perhaps the most important one is that relating to private communications.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently unveiled a new vision for a “privacy-focused” company. While there is significant skepticism about whether Zuckerberg’s new vision marks a meaningful shift the company’s strategy or is posturing for PR and regulatory purposes, his missive clearly reflects the fact that there does appear to be an undeniable consumer trend away from public to private.

While it’s not clear that Snapchat has or will be able to establish a long-term advantage over Facebook in helping marketers work their way into social interactions that are more private in nature, there’s no denying that Facebook, in part because of the hit its reputation has taken in recent times, will likely face some unique challenges in developing ad offerings for platforms like Messenger and WhatsApp.

The latter in particular, which has more than 1.5 billion daily active users, could be challenging for Facebook to monetize through ads because WhatsApp chats are encrypted end-to-end by default, meaning the company has far more limited data about the context of WhatsApp interactions. Data, of course, is a big part of Facebook’s ad offerings.

While marketers wait to see how Facebook, Snapchat and others play the privacy trends that are emerging, it already appears likely that dark(er) social is going to be a critical part of social, if not the dominant part, and marketers will need to adapt their approaches to social if they don’t want to wake up one morning and discover that they are missing out in a big way.

Marketing in the Dark: Dark Social

The effects of the shift to greater private social engagement could be especially significant for pharma companies, which are required to monitor and report adverse events to regulators. This includes content posted online by patients.

As social gets “darker”, firms might find that while this alleviates the amount of reporting they have to do, they might also see a reduced ability to gather consumer feedback.

For more information about Econsultancy’s reseach, training and best practice solutions contact us on americas@econsultancy.com.