A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 14 – online advertising

Faisal Ahmed and Paul Tunnah


Continued from “A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 13 – mobile marketing

We’re all hearing big numbers about the value of online advertising – companies like Facebook and Google have made multi-million dollar industries out of it.

It’s also surpassing traditional media too – spending on online advertising in the UK topped £3.5 billion in 2009 and for the first time outstripped television adspend. But back in 2000 internet adspend was £153m, so if you get your calculator out you’ll discover this means that online advertising grew by over 2,200 per cent!1

However, what has become one of the biggest advertising channels has still to really embrace our industry. For sure, there are media sales agencies selling banner advertising but are they really thinking about the end user or how to portray the brand message properly? In the past I’ve (Faisal) sometimes refused to do online adverts for pharma as we had to stick to a standard banner size of 468 x 60 with a maximum file size of 30k. Try fitting all the important product information into that and it’s impossible.

So what’s happening is that the pharma industry is dipping its toes in the online advertising water but not really thinking about the median – you can’t put an offline advert online, full stop!

“The outcome – bad results and pharma dismissing the whole media as a waste of time and money.”

The outcome – bad results and pharma dismissing the whole media as a waste of time and money.

The key, as always, is to start with defining what you are trying to achieve with the advert and who you are focussing on. This should then drive what type of advert you run, where you run it and how you measure the results.

Advert sizes / shapes

Let’s start with the guidelines around advert size. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines some standard banner advert shapes, sizes and file sizes that should be used:

• 300 x 250 pixels (Medium Rectangle), max file size 40k

• 180 x 150 pixels (Rectangle), max file size 40k

• 728 x 90 pixels (Leaderboard), max file size 40k

• 160 x 600 pixels (Wide Skyscraper), max file size 40k

• 300 x 600 pixels (Half Page Ad), max file size 40k

• 120 x 60 pixels (Button 2), max file size 20k

• 88 x 31 IMU pixels (Micro Bar), max file size 10k

So if you’re thinking of designing a snazzy banner advert that doesn’t fit one of these sizes then be prepared for more sites to say they can’t accommodate it.

However, bear in mind that unlike print advertising online adverts can be dynamic – e.g. they can show moving images that catch the reader’s eye. Very often these can be created in flash file format, but it’s always good practice to send the advertiser a static image too in case some browsers (like iPhones and iPads!) can’t show these.

“A low cost space with 10x rotation (and these do exist) will mean only one in ten visitors see your advert…”

You can also get non-banner space adverts such as pop-up (advert appears over the page), pop-under (new page opens with the advert) and interstitial (advert appears as page before the user reaches their target URL). However, bear in mind that some people find these annoying!

The cost

The next thing to understand is the different revenue models used for banner adverts (of which there are many):

Tenancy is usually a sponsorship of the site or certain sections, where the advertiser pays a flat fee for a certain period.

CPM (Cost Per Mille) or CPT (Cost Per Thousand Impressions) is a flat fee for a thousand page impressions.

CPC (Cost Per Click) or PPC (Pay per click) has become popular because of Google, where an advertiser only pays when a user clicks on the advert.

CPA (Cost Per Action or Cost Per Acquisition) is a popular form of advertising for e-commerce sites as the advertiser only pays when a user clicks on the advert and then goes on to buy a product.

CPE (Cost Per Engagement) is relatively new to the ad industry – here an advertiser only pays when a user engages (usually by rolling their mouse over advert) for around 3 seconds or more.

“…as of March 2011 online advertising has to adhere to the strict rules of traditional media advertising…”

Overall, the most commonly used formats are tenancy, CPA, CPC and CPM (the latter two favoured by social media sites such as Facebook).

The process

The normal process of online advertising usually involves someone creating the advert and delivering this to the advertiser, who normally integrates an ad serving company into their site, such as DoubleClick or ADTECH. These companies charge a fee but also help manage the campaign and deliver reports on the results.

In addition, cookie-tracking software can be used to monitor where the results are being delivered from if the advert is being shown on multiple sites (although new privacy regulations could see this change), or different redirect landing URLs used to monitor results.

Be aware of what you say in your advert though – as of March 2011 online advertising has to adhere to the strict rules of traditional media advertising, so no false or misleading product statements! See www.asa.org.uk for more information.

Getting results

We hope this gives you a better view of online advertising, but the key message is to really think about user and the website the advert is being placed on. Try running different variants of the same ad on the same site to see which yields the best results as the click through rate (CTR) is very dependent on the ad itself.

Do bear in mind though that the CTR rate is typically quite low – 0.3% on average which means that 3 in every 1,000 people who view a banner advert click on it. But it’s not all about clicks, brand association and visibility are also important and can lead to “offline” sales. After all, it’s impossible to get a direct “click” from TV or print ads (QR codes excepted) but it’s still proved effective.

“Maybe we should create our own ad format for our highly regulated industry…?”

Ultimately, for the pharma industry to make the most of online advertising it should work with its advertising partners to ensure that the essential product information can be communicated – this might not always fit in with a standard ad format.

Maybe we should create our own ad format for our highly regulated industry rather than put a round peg in a square hole?


1. The Independent, Advertising’s Digital Coming of Age, August 2011

The next part in this series on ‘Implementation’ can be viewed here.

About the authors:

Faisal Ahmed is one of a handful of people in the UK that has been involved with digital for over 14 years, providing digital thought leadership to some of the biggest brands globally, also contributing to some of the best-selling books on digital, having been part of the start-up team at Amazon, defining how we shop online. Faisal has launched digital strategies for 90 football Clubs, the ECB and WRC. He also launched Playboy’s mobile and social media platforms in 2006 and one of the first online social networks. Over the last 2 years Faisal has been working in Healthcare winning over 30 awards and bringing to life both one of the first mobile apps and augmented reality in healthcare. Faisal is currently working at Life-Healthcare and can be found Tweeting here @sickonthenet and contacted on LinkedIn here http://www.linkedin.com/in/ahmedfaisal.

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

How does banner advertising work for you?