Festival Intelligence: Closing pharma’s digital divide with AI innovation | M&M Global

Festival Intelligence: Closing pharma’s digital divide with AI innovation

Real-time data triggers, hyper-localised targeting, artificial intelligence (AI) predictions and behavioural patterns suggest that the pharma industry is leading the charge in digital and AI innovation around the world, as marketers navigate an increasingly complex environment and close the digital gap.

According to eMarketer, the pharma and healthcare industry spent more than $3bn on digital advertising in 2018 – across all connected devices. By 2020, that figure is estimated to grow by one third to over $4bn. A highly regulated sector that contends with various regulations and issues around patient privacy has resulted in an increased focus on the customer. In turn, pharma and healthcare marketers are increasingly having to work across multiple channels and touchpoints to engage with consumers through cross-channel promotions in the digital space.

The pharmaceutical sector had a strong representation across the Festival of Media Awards in 2018, with shortlisted campaigns stretching from Canada to Colombia, and China to Russia. The most popular categories in which pharma brands were shortlisted included ‘Best Use of Data & Insight’, ‘Best Use of Programmatic’, ‘Best Use of Geo-location’ and ‘Best Use of Real-time Marketing’, suggesting that it is pharma brands who are leading the charge on the digital technology front, particularly in terms of AI.

There were a number of trends to emerge from the pharma entries, the most prominent of which highlights the clever combination of online and offline media. Many of the campaigns used flexible media to deliver “in the moment”, mass hyper-targeted campaigns in a hyper-relevant context by using geo-location techniques to pull in AI data analytics to deliver personal content that shows understanding of consumers on an emotional level.

Phil Wade, Chief Marketing Officer of Jetstar Airways at Qantas Group, one of the awards judges from 2018, was particularly impressed by how “connections between multiple ‘real time’ data sources [are being] used to create ‘real time’ live dynamic creative that can be programmatically placed in ‘real time’ to provoke thought and action in customers”.

He commented: “You can feel the whole marketing and media industry rapidly changing at a global level to adapt to the new abilities to communicate to and with customers enabled by technology  – it is an exciting time to be in the industry.”

In terms of media, mobile had a huge role to play across the pharma campaigns. Combining behavioural signs across search and social with external data triggers (such as the weather and even pollen count levels), has opened up new opportunities to engage with consumers in real-time, using support from geo-location capabilities to serve relevant offers that help drive them to a nearby store to purchase, at the time they need it most.  

A quote from Jane Ractliffe (nee Schulze), Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand at Standard Media Index (SMI), as featured in the specialist pharmaceutical industry newsletter Pharma in Focus sums up our findings perfectly: “Digital channels have become an attractive and effective advertising medium for pharmaceutical companies looking to communicate with their target audiences and also perhaps personalising their marketing for for savvy digital audiences. [They] have moved more of their digital expenditure into search social and also programmatic advertising which shows they are continuing to test new digital channels and see it as a strong option for many consumers when they are researching and purchasing products.”

Cross-device targeting driven by data analytics and programmatic is increasingly becoming pharma’s strong point. As digital ad spend increases, healthcare and pharma marketers must think digital first and continue this drive to finding new and innovative ways to relay their messages across desktop, OOH, mobile and beyond.

We put the spotlight on two Festival of Media Awards shortlisted entries from across the globe in 2018, which highlight this trend:

Flixonase Allergy Monitor | Flixonase | MediaCom | China

Shortlisted for: Best Use of Real-time Marketing, Best Use of Digital Media


Nasal allergies are a massive problem in China, with one in four people suffering. Flixonase, a powerful anti-allergy medicine, wanted to educate people that most nasal allergens are actually triggered by weather conditions. And that Flixonase was the perfect nasal allergy solution, available from all pharmacies.

MediaCom partnered with China’s most popular weather app Moji to achieve this. In China, people not only check weather apps for weather predictions, but also for Air Quality Indicator (AQI) levels that measure daily air pollution – a big problem in China. The strategy was to add in a third layer of information, beyond just weather and Air Quality. By adding in measured allergen levels to the weather app, to appear alongside weather and air pollution levels, it would not only let consumers know if they were likely to experience allergy symptoms, it would also be educating the unaware group on what allergens actually are.

The Call-to-Action in the ad directly took consumers to the solution – nearby pharmacies that sold the Flixonase Anti-Allergy Nasal Spray. To drive foot traffic into pharmacies, the agency built an O2O solution, connecting the weather app directly to commerce during the most relevant times and at the most relevant places. Allergen levels would trigger the ad in real-time, during the moments when consumers are likely seeking solutions.

In The Moment | Thrive | PHD | Canada

Shortlisted for: Best Use of Data & Insight Award, Healthcare & Pharmaceutical


Although well-established, the objective for Thrive (nicotine replacement) was to increase relevance and consideration among a very specific target, and break through competitive clutter, by connecting with smokers in a way its competitors had not. PHD’s strategy was to employ a mass hyper-targeted approach to connect with smokers on an emotional level, by both taking advantage of and addressing their fear of missing out (FOMO).

The agency concentrated on reaching a niche in-market audience via flexible media and advanced targeting tactics, to deliver messaging in very specific and personal situations. This allowed it to connect with smokers on an emotional level, reinforcing the brand positioning that Thrive understands them and is there to help them manage their cravings. This stands very much in contrast to the category players, who promote hard-hitting “quit” messaging, which smokers find judgmental and condescending.

Using a combination of the latest mobile monitoring technology and artificial intelligence (AI) data analytics would provide unique access to this hard-to-reach target based on very specific and personal cues. It identified smokers through social media conversations, photo posts and travel routes, and could re-target them across mobile apps and browsers, driving message resonance by reaching them when and where it was most relevant – when cravings struck in social situations.

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