Pharma marketers are handcuffed in their ability to enable 1-to-1 ad targeting. Respecting consumer privacy is of course critical across all marketing categories, but HIPAA compliance sets an especially high bar for direct-to-consumer pharma marketing, so techniques like retargeting and behavioral profiling that are commonplace across the digital marketing landscape are perceived to be more challenging for pharmas. But respecting consumer privacy does not mean that pharma marketers need to implement untargeted “spray and pray” media buys.

One technique that allows pharma marketers to improve media buying efficiency in a privacy-compliant manner is “trigger-based marketing.” Trigger-based marketing assumes that some publicly-known event can predict a change in consumer behavior. Big box retailers often use trigger-based marketing to, for example, advertise snow shovels when a blizzard is imminent. Other marketing triggers might include stock market volatility, changes in competitor pricing and even sports scores.


Here are three examples of how pharma marketers can (and are!) using trigger-based marketing:


1. Condition Proxies

Pollen counts from The Weather Channel (

Over-the-counter allergy medicine sales are highly correlated with local pollen counts. When pollen counts spike, so do sales. With the knowledge that pollen counts are a strong predictor of consumer demand, OTC marketers can match ad delivery to the micro-geographies that are currently experiencing elevated pollen levels. Pollen count data is available from public services like The Weather Channel and can be downloaded on a daily basis to inform campaign targeting rules. Furthermore, pharma marketers who centralize media buying through a demand-side platform (or DSP) can automate the process of adjusting ad targeting settings. The DSP can automatically ingest pollen count data and shift campaign delivery accordingly. As allergy-prone geographies move, so does the allergy ad campaign.


2: Condition-Specific Surveillance

Flu trends from the CDC (

While conditions like allergies require predictors (e.g., pollen counts) as a trigger, other conditions can be monitored directly. Influenza incidence, for example, is closely tracked by the CDC, with data made available for public download. By applying the same techniques used for promoting OTC allergy medication, pharma marketers can target flu-oriented ad campaigns toward geographies as they experience elevated cases of influenza. CPG marketers already use flu data to promote products like facial tissues. In pharma, both drug manufacturers and point-of-care organizations can fine tune ad campaigns to focus on condition-specific triggers that are relevant to them.


3: Brand-Specific Surveillance

Search term: Humira
Subregion: Metro


Brand interest from Google (


Brands looking to address consumer sentiment or product interest can look to Google search trends to inform trigger campaigns. A new drug brand seeking to build consumer awareness might identify geographies in which consumers are searching for keywords related to symptoms. Brands can also look at search demand in markets where TV ad campaigns were executed to ensure capture of the TV-to-online conversion. The map above shows search volume for “Humira” over the last 30 days. Marketers can activate campaign spend in geographies that exhibit elevated search levels of the brand-relevant keywords.

Trigger-based marketing may not guarantee the zero-waste efficiency of 1-to-1 targeting but it is a safe place to start for pharma. Some ad delivery is bound to reach the wrong consumers because trigger-based marketing uses geography as a proxy for product interest. But trigger-based marketing greatly improves ad efficiency over untargeted reach-based tactics while adhering to privacy guidelines. Furthermore, trigger-based marketing allows brands to engage with targeted patient populations even when those patients are not actively consuming healthcare content. Trigger-based marketing should be in the toolkit of every pharma brand.

If you want to get your programmatic questions answered and learn about trigger-based marketing opportunities for your brand, email us at

U.S. payers are warming up to covering digital therapeutics

View Now