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Andrea Palmer, President, Publicis Health Media.
Upfronts are a rite of spring, when advertisers and media companies meet to orchestrate ad buys for the coming year. It’s a system that allocates available ad space alongside popular content to the industries with the most negotiating strength and ability to lock in ad buys early. This decides what content viewers will see and how much brands will pay for the prime opportunities.
Like pretty much everything else in the last year, the 2021 upfronts brought a few surprises, and I believe they could act as an inflection point for health and pharmaceutical advertisers that have traditionally been big spenders but often lagged when it came to being offered targeted opportunities developed for their unique needs.
In 2020, national TV ad spending fell 13.3%. Total TV usage increased last year, but linear TV viewership shrank, thanks in part to the proliferation of streaming services and their growing subscriber bases — Peacock and Hulu, to name just two, are nearing 40 million U.S. subscribers. With fewer linear TV viewers, supply for advertisers is constrained at the exact moment when many advertisers are expected to start increasing spending.
Traditionally, linear TV has been an effective place for pharma to reach consumers, but this changing marketplace, matched with evolving consumer behaviors, requires continuous innovation. In order for pharma to continue to lead in media, it must reassess some traditional assumptions and find new and efficient ways of speaking to the public by thinking holistically about video spending across all channels.
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The Dissolution Of Dayparting
As consumption habits change, it is critical that buyers’ approach to purchasing does as well. One major disruption as spending shifts from linear due to constricted supply is the dissolution of dayparting. Dayparting, or the segmentation of the broadcast day by hours, used to serve as a means to define the demographics of an audience tuned into certain programming.
Within finite health audiences, dayparting has been an effective tool to reach certain audiences when demographics were largely driven by behaviors. However, as consumers take advantage of increased viewing flexibility thanks to streaming services, dayparting is not nearly as efficient as it used to be.
In health, it makes sense for media buys to be aligned with content, which allows for targeted audiences and eliminates waste rather than relying on tonnage. This approach is more closely aligned to how digital advertising has been approached in recent years — targeting these limited audiences where they are rather than relying solely on when we think they will be there.
As a key learning, the perspective of content alignment, rather than strict adherence to dayparts, contributes to an effective strategy that can be implemented across devices and allows for greater flexibility in how dollars are allocated between linear and nonlinear video supply.
Of course, video content is not contextual in nature, but we can still use data to understand the programming that attracts our audiences through their health behaviors mapped back to video viewership.
Device Ownership Matters
With constrained linear supply, and informed buying outside of dayparting, it’s important that pharma considers ad bundling (ad buys that cross platforms and content types) and the new opportunities it provides. Consumption is evolving rapidly as audiences fragment and migrate across devices. Meanwhile, as over-the-top content (video content streamed by users directly from the internet) and connected TV (devices that access OTT) reach maturity as mainstream media, there are new video formats available that encourage engagement, particularly for pharma and health, which require longer formats to communicate with consumers.
Longer form content, which has historically been harder to program on linear TV, encounters fewer challenges on OTT. New video formats such as ad extensions, pause-screen ads and interactive videos can deliver the high engagement pharma needs while offering cross-integration for other devices for an overall deeper engagement strategy.
Cross-platform and long-form content opportunities are places we’re encouraging clients to experiment, and the inventory shortage of linear TV property may be just the catalyst they’ve been waiting for. Opportunity makes for strange bedfellows, and we’re seeing many brands considering a bigger allocation of ad dollars to these growing and increasingly relevant channels.
Pharma has an opportunity to lean into these new trends and determine how to maximize the storytelling capabilities in these new ad formats.
New Content Suppliers
As pharma maximizes opportunity, one potentially fruitful space to explore is the crop of new content suppliers. In 2020 and early 2021 alone, major players HBO Max, Paramount+, Discovery+ and Peacock launched. With new suppliers entering the market all the time, this new territory is expanding rapidly as the linear audience erodes in certain dayparts.
As these services develop new content and generate viewership, they will initially lack the historical data to validate their performance. Despite this, it is still important for pharma to consider these spaces, leaning into engagement strategy as opposed to historical rating points. To shape this engagement strategy in new and emerging platforms, advertisers can make use of advanced audience analytics to power smarter purchasing decisions. Armed with this data, you’ll be enabled to explore new territories outside of traditional linear buys, allowing you to build targeted audiences within the finite populations that could be helped by a product.
This year has brought opportunities for marketers across industries to develop new strategies and ways of doing things. As we return to pre-pandemic levels of ad spending, it will be crucial for pharma to be innovative and explore new spaces to maintain its position in the media landscape. By taking advantage of new opportunities, pharma can move from being a leader in linear TV spending to being a leader in video strategy, driving game-changing media innovations and reaching consumers with important health information on the platforms of today.
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Author: Andrea Palmer, Forbes Councils Member