While marketers in many industries are now routinely allocating more than half their digital advertising budgets to programmatic advertising, by one estimate, pharma marketers are only dedicating up to 5% of their budgets to programmatic.

There are numerous reasons for this.

Many, such as the complexity of the programmatic market and concerns around brand safety, are common across industries. But there are also barriers to programmatic adoption among pharma marketers that are specific to the pharma industry. Regulatory concerns, for instance, is one of the biggest. In the US, HIPAA all but prevents pharma marketers from using first-party data to target certain kinds of patient audiences.

But despite the challenges and complexity those challenges creates, programmatic holds a lot of potential for pharma companies and they would be wise not to ignore it. Here are some things pharma marketers should consider when exploring programmatic.

The first-party data challenge isn’t a deal-breaker

The restrictions around the use of first-party data are critical for pharma marketers to understand. In many cases, use of first-party data simply won’t be permissable without explicit permission from a patient, which for obvious reasons is likely to be very difficult to obtain. But it’s worth noting that for certain types of health conditions, restrictions on the use of data may be more lax. For instance, it might be possible for marketers to use more data when dealing with conditions such as allergies or acne than for more sensitive health conditions.

Additionally, first-party data isn’t always required for effective targeting. Contextual targeting and geo-targeting, for example, can be just as effective if not more effective than audience-based targeting. In fact, because the creep factor of audience-based targeting, in which ads follow individuals across the web, could be especially disturbing for pharma-related ads, there’s an argument to be made that pharma marketers actually benefit from the restrictions that often prevent them from using this kind of targeting in the first place.

pharma programmatic

Solutions exist to address brand safety concerns

After regulations like HIPAA, brand safety often tops the list of concerns that can impede programmatic adoption among pharma marketers. But given that brand safety is of growing concern to marketers in general, pharma marketers are likely to find that they have adequate solutions that can help them grapple with their brand safety concerns.

Most demand-side platforms (DSPs) offer whitelist and blacklist functionality that pharma marketers can use to exercise control over which sites their campaigns will run. While whitelists and blacklists are not perfect, they can go a long way towards reducing the likelihood that ads will be displayed alongside questionable content.

For brands wanting even more protection, private marketplaces (or so-called programmatic direct offerings) offer the ability to obtain many of the benefits of programmatic while ensuring that their ads will only appear on sites they know and have vetted.

Outside help is available

Finally, while some major brands have brought programmatic operations in-house, the reality is that in most industries, most marketers still rely on third-party partners to help them navigate the complex and ever-changing programmatic ecosystem.

Because of their unique needs, pharma marketers are wise not to work with any programmatic partner, but there are a growing number of firms that are either dedicated to pharma or have deep experience working with pharma clients. These firms can help pharma marketers navigate the concerns and challenges that are specific to their industry.

Econsultancy subscribers can download A CMO’s Guide to Programmatic.