Pharma Hotlist: DSPs

In an ongoing series, Q&A sessions with experts from CMI/Compas explore what pharma needs to know about the latest trends in engagement. 

Demand-side platforms (DSPs) have been taking the advertising industry by storm, but can be confusing. Theresa Heintz, Sr. Associate, Strategic Marketing & Corporate Communications, CMI/Compas, sat down with colleague Brian Werner, Media Director, Communications Media Inc., to discuss DSPs and learn what the pharma industry can expect to see in the near future.

TH: What is DSP?

BW: DSPs are part of the conversation about programmatic buying – where we buy media in a an automated fashion, usually in an auction. A DSP, or demand-side platform is the software that helps us manage campaigns across ad exchanges and networks, where we bid on media in real time.  This allows us to bid according to the value of the target we are reaching.  A DSP, because of pinpoint targeting capabilities, also helps to reduce the waste that we would otherwise have when media is bought in bulk. It’s just a really smart way to buy media.

TH: What’s the competition like in the DSP space?

BW: Fierce. There are so many different DSP companies out there, so factors we consider include how long they have been doing this, whether we’ve worked with them before, and whether they understand health. So many of these companies are filled with PHDs and mathematicians building these really complicated algorithms to decide when the ads go up but there are so many things we worry about in healthcare in regards to privacy or sensitivity with certain conditions that an algorithm can’t understand. We want to work with the DSPs that understand these concerns and constraints and who can help build solutions for us. It’s also critical to have access to endemic inventory and a priority for us – in fact the core of what we’re working on – is being able to match against a client’s target file versus just looking at a segment of physicians.

TH: What are the trends in DSP and pharma?

BW: It’s been an amazing evolution. In 2011, about a quarter of the display banner ads were bought programmatically. In 2014, an estimated 50 percent of the ads will be bought programmatically.  Healthcare’s breakdown is smaller because healthcare often lags behind a lot of the trends due to the privacy and compliance issues. But it is increasingly taking up a larger share of the total impressions being managed.

TH: Can you walk us through the DSP journey?

BW: I’m sitting at my laptop and go to because I want to check some baseball scores. In the time period from when I click ‘go’ to when the page loads thousands of calculations are happening behind the scenes. My computer is talking to another computer who is talking to another computer, and so on.  They’re all working together to figure out what ad to put on the page There are all these middlemen along the way that are saying “well I know Brian, he’s a (frustrated) Phillies fan. I’ve learned this over the years via his browsing behavior. I know that Brian is also male, is about 35-years-old, is married with kids, and has a dog. He also suffers from allergies and I know that because he has looked up pollen counts and reviewed a few web page results. I even can guess that he’s not feeling well because he’s visited the sites a few times over the course of several weeks. I know all this information and I’ve got a pharmaceutical company that’s actually bidding on the space right now.”  The DSP says that whenever they can find somebody who looks like Brian, show them an ad. When the page loads, the sports scores load right next to an ad with information about prescription treatments to help with his allergies.

TH: Is it true that DSPs are going to replace manual media buys?

BW: It’s not false, but I would frame it differently.  I would make sure people are aware that DSPs will allow them to make better use of inventory. Algorithms won’t replace the relationships that buyers and sellers have for the most valuable opportunities.