The drug industry already faces privacy and compliance challenges, Augustine Fou, an ad fraud researcher, said at event this week. Photo credit: Erica Berger

Programmatic ad tech is seductive. What better promise for pharma companies than targeting the right message to the right patient or clinician at the right time — and all of this at scale?

While there’s no doubt programmatic creates efficiencies and will continue to be adopted by pharma marketers, the risk of fraud is also very real, especially in an industry that already faces privacy and compliance challenges, said Augustine Fou, an independent cybersecurity and ad fraud researcher, speaking at MM&M‘s Big Data for Big Decisions event Wednesday in New York City.

Read more news from the event: An EHR strategy can’t be measured in clicks, says Lilly exec

Fou, a former Omnicom executive and McKinsey consultant, described the rapid changes happening in digital marketing with some warnings about how pharma companies can avoid getting caught in the programmatic ad fraud snag.  

Here are some of the traps pharma marketers need to watch out for:

Bots can steal your ad dollars. Say an ad targets oncologists. Bots make themselves look like oncologists, visit oncology sites, and then load an ad onto fraudulent sites creating a false ad network. That ad can end up in the digital trash heap.

Bots generate unrealistically high click rates. If you’re optimizing for clicks, know there’s a threshold after which bots take over. According to research presented by Fou, click rates of less than 1% are usually no problem, although some bots will be present. When you get to click rates of about 6%, as much as 45% of that may be generated by bots.    

Bots cause misleading conversion rates. Bots never convert. So if they’re responsible for a good portion of your traffic, you’ll end up with a conversion rate that looks lower than it actually is. “Cleaning up fraud makes your analytics more accurate,” Fou advised.

Ads end up in the wrong place. This can cause compliance problems if an ad ends up next to content promoting off-label use of a drug or is seen by the wrong audience. “If your programmer can’t tell you where your ad ran,” suggested Fou, “don’t buy from them.”

To avoid these situations, Fou recommends marketers think small and precise. “There’s a finite number of oncologists out there,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to buy in mass quantities.”

See also: Medical association and ad platform partner for in-meeting messaging

Warnings aside, Fou is a fan of big data. Simple search research can offer insights on traffic patterns, who a company or brand’s audience is, and when they are ready to act on a product. In addition, Fou encouraged marketers to think of digital advertising as “pitching and catching,” saying marketers should want to pitch a product with advertising but also make content available to catch users looking for information about that product.

“Go ahead and use programmatic,” Fou concluded. “But use it judiciously. You still need to make the most of search and content marketing. Don’t let the pendulum swing too far.”