2 min read

Is There Life for Health Marketers After Facebook?

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By: Ron Elwell, President, Swoop/IPM.ai 

Health marketers who utilize Facebook's audience segments need to pivot, and quickly. As of January 19, 2022, the platform no longer permits ad targeting based on sensitive topics, thus eliminating conversion opportunities for users who have interacted with content linked to a health condition such as “World Diabetes Day,” “lung cancer awareness” or “chemotherapy.” While targeting patients and caregivers through a demonstrated interest in a disease via Facebook was a go-to strategy for more than a decade, this is no longer an option. By expanding its ad control and sunsetting the Detailed Targeting of sensitive topics, Facebook’s new public focus is on protecting underrepresented groups from being negatively targeted.

Fresh off its rebrand as Meta Platforms Inc., the company is focused on regaining public trust in Facebook. To alert marketers of the impending changes and justify their reasoning behind doing so, Facebook released a statement noting that blocking special interest advertising was “difficult,” but that ultimately input from “civil rights experts, policymakers and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options” led to the final decision. As an alternative to Detailed Targeting, Facebook recommends appealing to generic audiences through high-level demographics. The platform explains: “a business running a large-scale brand awareness campaign may want to target broadly. It could target their ads to people 18-65 years old in the United States.” Unfortunately, this tactic is ineffective and will result in wasted spend, as demographic data lacks health determinants and condition-specific information to truly be effective.

Instead of shifting from a campaign based on interests or demographics, marketers who engage patients using real world health data achieve higher audience quality (AQ). High AQ patient segments are more likely to interact with a resonant message, resulting in a filled prescription. For example, although many advertisers will deploy an eczema campaign to women aged 25-34 and expect a response, there’s a greater chance of converting women who are recently diagnosed. 

At Swoop we don't rely on digital behavior or demographics. Instead, we apply artificial intelligence (AI) against offline, real world data (RWD) to uncover privacy-safe patient audiences. De-identified, custom segments are created based on unique brand objectives and patient definitions, and can be applied across the programmatic, social media and television advertising landscape. This provides a more cost-effective, less risky way to target than relying on social platforms. For example, Swoop’s custom audiences drove 2-3 times higher script lift for a top-three retail pharmacy chain than Facebook’s now sunset targeting offering – and this performance is typical when addressing the right patient populations. 

Swoop has built more than 3,000 exclusive segments for hundreds of health brands to engage common, specialty and rare disease patients. Our industry footprint is indicative of our performance, as 42 of the top 50 pharma companies and 18 of the top 20 healthcare agencies rely on us to educate patients about disease states and the therapies that could effectively remedy their condition, as well as enable them to become active participants in their diagnostic and treatment journey.

Facebook’s removal of interest-based targeting represents the latest development in a rapidly changing health advertising market. As privacy concerns continue to expand, agencies, data providers and technology firms that can’t assure complete patient anonymity face the real possibility of massive interruption at any moment – and marketers assume that risk when working with the wrong vendor. As this development demonstrates, working with a company that has prioritized privacy and provides high quality audience segments based on real world data is key to success.

About the Author

Ron Elwell




Ron leads a team charged with corporate strategy, product innovation and customer growth. He brings more than 20 years of executive experience in high-tech, online media and digital marketing. He was previously an Operating Partner at Bessemer Ventures and served on the Boards of several companies including MFORMA, now owned by Electronic Arts, Enforta, now owned by ER Telecom and ReefEdge, now owned by Symantec; Chief Executive Officer of Goal.com, the world’s second largest online sports media company only behind ESPN that was acquired by Perform Media Group; and Chief Executive Officer of Octave Communications, a former leader in the design and manufacturing of voice and data infrastructure now owned by Plantronics.