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Snap is trying to get pharmaceutical companies to place ad campaigns for products that are relevant to younger audiences, ranging from birth control to vaccinations, on Snapchat.
To make the case, it's positioning itself as a friendlier social network than Facebook and Twitter, a place where young people feel comfortable discussing private matters and may be more receptive to ads that refer to health matters, according to a slide deck seen by CNBC.
Pharmaceutical companies still invest billions in television ads, their primary platform for reaching consumers, but recent reports suggest that they are increasingly shifting their budgets to digital, starting with Facebook and Google. According to a June 2018 eMarketer report, pharma digital ad spending reached $2.52 billion in 2017 and is expected to jump to more than $3 billion by the end of this year.
And Snap, where growth from ad revenues has recently slowed, wants in on the action.
In February, Snap sent a team of salespeople to speak at a conference called DigiPharma Connect, which is attended by digital marketing executives in the pharmaceutical sector, including companies like Roche, Bayer and Amgen.
Both Kyle Avery, Snap's sales lead for health, and Pete Muscarella, a director of health, spoke about the opportunities for drug companies to advertise on mobile at the DigiPharma Connect conference. Eric DeLange, who leads health care partnerships, was also in attendance.
"Be prepared for an interactive conversation around DTC (direct to consumer) advertising on a smaller screen," the conference agenda reads. Snap was also a key sponsor for the conferences, which helped it get its name out there to pharma marketers, according to one attendee.
Throughout the presentation, Snap presented itself as the platform that doesn't garner as much negativity in its culture and its comments as Facebook and Twitter. The idea is that Snap is a more comfortable place for users to talk about their sensitive health conditions, ranging from excessive sweating to sexually transmitted infections.
But the lack of negativity might also have another benefit: Unlike other advertisers on social media, pharma companies must report any adverse events about their drugs to federal agencies. That includes comments spread on social media. A more positive social media culture could mean fewer complaints to report, especially if the ads are set up in a format so that users don't have a space to leave comments.
Snap also makes the pitch that its app is more likely to involve content that is shared between close friends, which opens up opportunities to talk about personal issues and serve them ads.
The company pointed to particular diseases that Snapchat users are "more likely to treat and diagnose," including arthritis, asthma, diabetes and migraines, according to third-party survey data it cites from the marketing firm Global Web Index Insights. It's unclear whether that's in comparison to other social media tools or the general population. The company did point to its youth-focused audience and the parents who use it, saying that 34 percent of its 81 million daily North American users are between 18 and 24, and another 26 percent are 25 to 34.
Snap showed examples of previous ad campaigns. One ad to promote a drug from the pharma company Dermira that helps with excessive sweating through images of millennials jumping in the air wearing loose, summery clothing with revealing sweat patches. The slogan for that campaign, "you're not alone," was an attempt to reduce stigma related to the condition.
The company also showed off an ad campaign with Merck to promote awareness of the HPV vaccine. That campaign featured a group of young twenty-somethings, male and female, wearing beanies and baseball caps and T-shirts, telling other users to "get versed about HPV." That campaign was publicly praised by public health researchers as a step forward in reaching millennials, compared to Merck's other ads.
The company declined to comment on its plans to pitch pharmaceutical customers. Its ad policies now include a section for pharma and health care, including a rule that companies must only "promote those products or services that have been approved by the local regulatory authorities in each of the countries targeted."
While Snap is taking steps into the space, Facebook remains the dominant player when it comes to pharma advertising, according to industry experts.
"I would say Facebook is eating the most lunches from traditional TV spots," said Matt Higgins, senior vice president for digital and innovation at Makovsky, a communications firms that helps pharma companies strategize their social media campaigns.
"Facebook has been doing really well in our industry," added Shwen Gwee, head of open innovation at Novartis Biome, the pharmaceutical giant's innovation lab. "It started with right-column ads — which were essentially like banner ads — but the industry quickly learned that sponsored posts in the News Feed were much more effective."
Facebook kicked things off in 2016 by partnering with global pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which created a first-of-its-kind ad campaign around a multiple sclerosis drug and injector. For Bayer, Facebook launched a scrolling feature inside the ad, which included necessary risk information about the treatment. People with multiple sclerosis tend to experience their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40, which sits squarely in Facebook's core demographic.
Facebook hosted an invitation-only summit for pharma marketers the following year.
A Bayer spokesperson acknowledged that it is also looking to leverage Snapchat.
"Across Bayer, we leverage Snapchat and similar channels to engage and educate consumers," the spokesperson said. "For our pharma business, we're exploring opportunities to provide health information on these platforms, as we know this is where many people get their news and information and we want to meet them where they are."
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Snap