Despite myriad campaign successes, pharma marketers remain slightly skeptical about out-of-home media as an A-list channel. Here, Clear Channel Outdoor regional VP, sales Ed Maher addresses some of those lingering concerns and serves up a preview of the company’s data-centric offerings.

(This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Tell us about Clear Channel’s history with pharma and health and wellness clients. There’s an argument to be made that it’s more extensive than what most people think.

Yeah. One of the earliest DTC campaigns I remember being a part of was the launch of Claritin. Then came some educational campaigns, when advertisers messaged an illness and directed the consumer to see a doctor without mentioning a brand. Even at the beginning, the educational copy didn’t have the creative limitations that presented a challenge for outdoor.

Then came some fun campaigns as a result of our digital convergence. As we introduced digital outdoor across the country, starting in around 2007, we were able to deliver. Every Clear Channel digital screen is IP-enabled, which allows for data feeds including weather and traffic information.

Was there a moment when Clear Channel realized, hey, we can do pharma really well?

The successful pharma example was when we tied pollen counts to Zyrtec messaging. You had the brand image and you had the pollen count. It was an association that triggered real engagement during a consumer “ponder” moment.

Once we knew it worked, what we did was socialize it at all the agencies, to seed interest there. We needed the buying community to recognize our new capabilities. Zyrtec was the catalyst for that.

How did the Zyrtec campaign change the type of conversations Clear Channel was having with pharma?

It was more a buildup of excitement against these products. Zyrtec happened and it drew more and more interest to outdoor from pharma. What I expect to be the big catalyst moving forward are our data-driven capabilities, our contextual capabilities. Forget about the media selection and activity – at some point soon the data will inform the creative, like it did in the Zyrtec ad.

Zyrtec billboard

Sequential retargeting seems a high priority for you.

The sequential retargeting from outdoor to mobile and online has been great. When a consumer is primed by high-impact outdoor, [the campaign] delivers stronger online and/or mobile performance, often by two to three times. For DTC, this also allows us to overcome the creative limitation: The FDA allows for DTC ads to display their brand but once benefits are added, the PI information needs to be included. The PI is challenging to read on most outdoor.

With this new retargeting capability we can draw on the strengths of both channels to deliver comprehensive messaging and do it more effectively – and with a proven track record of deeper engagement-priming, with the branding messaging of outdoor coupled with detailed delivery and a call to action via the subsequent online or mobile ad messaging.

How do you counter marketers who assume that out-of-home/outdoor isn’t “right” for pharma?

The most important KPIs of DTC pharma campaigns are consistently brand-awareness lift and script lift. For brand awareness, outdoor is as good as any channel and often better – see Geico, Coca-Cola and so many more. That clarity has triggered some of the [pharma] client engagements. What we’re doing with script lift is still in beta with Crossix, but it’s absolutely technically feasible. We’ll deliver.

What’s something that marketers get wrong about Clear Channel as it pertains to pharma?

Not all outdoor should be considered the same. We deliver premium outdoor assets and no one – no one – has measured outdoor as much as we have.

Also, we can do more targeted drugs. The cost per lifetime acquisition for some of these drugs allows us to effectively help them drive their business, no matter how small their audience. The broader the audience, often the lower the CPM – which is true – but that doesn’t preclude us from driving return on ad spend for the DTC drugs with a narrower audience.

What’s next?

The biggest items on the to-do list are to socialize these capabilities with major pharma groups and deliver messaging to their key audiences via the normalizing of vehicular traffic, which is surprisingly strong right now. The first challenge is to overcome the perception that people are not leaving their homes; they are indeed leaving their homes and the traffic data is illustrating that. The majority of the US population is delivered with roadside outdoor.

Facebook just won an outdoor media plan of the year award. In that announcement, their team shared that outdoor had a higher impact on their KPI of awareness lift than any other channel. I believe we’ll hear the same thing from pharma clients at the end of 2021, as well as feedback on significant script lift performance.

The sooner we can get all of the many, many decision-makers aligned, the stronger their media plans will be. I truly believe that.