Millennial Influencers are the Prescription for Pharma Sales Downturn

Millennial Influencers are the Prescription for Pharma Sales Downturn

Prescription drug revenue has stalled

Retail prescription drug spending has plateaued, and drug companies are planning their strategies to recover the lost revenues. On a per capita basis, Americans spent over $1,000 per year on prescription drugs in 2017. This compares to $90 per person just 60 years ago. This impressive growth had to end eventually, as spending dipped ever so slightly in 2017–but enough to raise eyebrows in the boardroom.

So pharmaceutical companies are looking for growth in a segment of the market which is primed for spending: millennials. Millennials are much more open to talk about even stigmatic diseases, they crave and consume information, and finally they make more money than their age group from any era in the past.

This group, generally thought of as born between 1981 and 1996, are ready to make up the dip in growth. And pharma has decided how to reach them: social influencers. But some of those characteristics of millennials, which make them such a juicy target, will also pose the most challenges. A light hand will be necessary to navigate these challenges, but the reward may be another half century of upward growth.

Income is not an issue

One aspect of Gen Y that poses no challenges is their ability to access and pay for healthcare. One of the most popular provisions in the Affordable Care Act is that kids up to the age of 26 can remain on their parents’ plan. There are no income or family status limitations – they can be married tech billionaires who don’t live at home and still have dad or mom list them on their policy.

But this doesn’t mean they, as a group, can’t afford it. Millennials now earn more than similarly aged households did at any time in the past 50 years, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data.

So millennials can afford prescription drugs; even high cost specialty drugs. The question is, will they?

Do you want to talk about it?

More than any segment from any recent era, millennials have embraced acceptance of stigmatic diseases. Whether it’s HIV, mental disorders, or even venereal disease, millennials reject the old social pressure to stay quiet and instead, seek treatment with head held high.

Importantly, millennials receive the social support needed to brave the discussion with family and friends and make that call to the doctor. This vast cultural change is reflected in the statistics: use of antidepressants has grown 65% in the past 15 years. Now, progressively-minded millennials may not account for all of this growth but one could reasonably say that it couldn’t have happened without them.

Social acceptance is achieved through supportive social media groups, where members are encouraged to speak about their condition, now aware that they are not alone in the world. Social influencers, sponsoring posts on platforms like Instagram and YouTube, really become social leaders for issues such as these. Their audiences trust them like no parent, public service announcement, or advertisement could ever achieve. Of course the most effective influencers will only take sponsored work if they, too, agree with the issue at hand so finding the right influencers can be a time consuming effort.

The consumers of this rich, social media? Millennials. But although having a broad availability of information just a few clicks away seems only good, there is a downside–and it threatens pharma in ways unheard of just a decade ago.

Related: To Brand or Unbrand Influencer Campaigns for Pharma?

The smug new face of Pharma

The beneficial life changing aspect of the Internet–the democratization of information–can also breed fear and misinformation, unfairly damaging reputations of companies and their products.

The leading contender for the most punchable face in the 21st century has to be Martin Shkreli, the former CEO and “Pharma Bro” of Turing Pharmaceuticals. Smug Martin seemed to relish the opportunity to raise the price for a life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750 per pill. For a few weeks in 2015, Americans were squinting and cracking their knuckles like Clint Eastwood facing down a giant opponent, seething at each news story flitting around social media featuring the smug young face of Pharma. 

This story really hit a nerve; Pharma is literally making a killing off of you or your parents or neighbors who can’t afford their meds. And now you know that the life-saving drugs draining your savings could be priced at 50x cheaper!  The temptation to apply Smug Martin’s punchable mug to the face of every pharma in America was simply too strong. News stories still pop up in 2019 about the fractional cost of equivalent drugs in Canada or Mexico. 

Along with reputation destruction, the spectacular growth of information sharing has dealt another challenge to Pharma: pseudoscience and their “cures”. Aside from the real dangers untested treatments or anti-vaccination studies pose to blog readers, every dollar spent on a non FDA-approved drug is one (or more) lost to Pharma. And misinformation or exaggeration about the risks of some medications can spread like a virus on an international flight, further hurting sales.

Free access to people and information on social media offers necessary support to Pharma’s products but can it be used to combat reputation-smashing stories?

Don’t miss: 10 Influencers for Health Brands

A most potent antidote

Pharmaceutical companies face seemingly existential balance sheet challenges: the cost of bringing a drug from inception to market has only increased, so how will they recover the R&D expense to fuel the innovation of new drugs? And pressures to sell to third world countries at well below cost continue to rise with awareness.

Perhaps their best antidote lies with millenials, the most informed and monied generation of consumers in recent history. But this will prove no small challenge as the very system of information which enabled this unique generation also threatens Pharma in seemingly insurmountable ways.

So it’s little surprise that pharma is turning to millennial social influencers to rescue them from Martin Shkreli and homeopathy. The trust imbued in the right influencers with the right audiences can begin to repair the reputation destruction and ever increasing digital mountain of misinformation available.

How To Keep Up With Instagram Updates

How To Keep Up With Instagram Updates

It’s both a benefit and a downfall of working in social media: things are always changing and evolving. It can be exciting, but overwhelming. Between new platforms and changes to existing platforms, it can be hard to keep up with all of the updates happening across the world of social media, especially when they are happening almost daily.

So let’s just stick to one platform for the time being, the one that rules them all when it comes to influencer marketing: Instagram. Studies have shown us that Instagram reigns superior in social channels when it comes to running influencer campaigns, so it’s important to keep up with anything and everything on Instagram’s platform to understand how any of these changes can potentially affect the influencer marketing industry. 

Are Likes going away?

Is it ever going to happen? We’ve been hearing about the potential disappearing of likes on Instagram for a while now, and whether it happens or not, it’s good to be prepared for what this will mean for your campaigns. The idea of likes going away is a scary thought, especially since most agencies associate likes with engagement, which is how most measure the potential outcome of a campaign as well as the final results. Likes going away doesn’t mean the influence is going away, just the way we currently measure it. And luckily, likes alone do not define influence.

In case this does happen, you may want to turn to an agency or a technology-enabled service, like us. Influencer agencies and platforms have data from months and even years, in order to prove which influencers have high engagement and which don’t, regardless if you can see their likes or not. Many providers have also built close relationships with influencers and will be able to gain access to that influencer’s stats once posts are live. Just because we don’t see those double taps, doesn’t mean their audience isn’t being influenced by your product. But you will need a team to monitor closely and set better expectations for anticipated engagement.

How to Deal With “The Algorithm”

It’s always a top trending topic on Twitter when Instagram decides to change anything, even if it’s something as minuscule as the color of their logo. So when Instagram decided to run their feeds based on relevancy rather than as an actual timeline, the entire platform seemed to freak out. As with most social media changes, users will protest for a week or so then eventually it becomes the norm. Having the feed and stories based on relevancy doesn’t have to be a bad thing; sure some posts get missed, but an influencer’s most engaged audience will see their posts as one of the first ones on their feed, regardless if it was posted at two in the morning.

The Instagram Algorithm

But the algorithm is changing constantly, and in more ways than one. Because of this it’s becoming harder to predict how well a campaign will perform. Maybe an influencer has an average of 1,000 engagements on a sponsored posts, but when yours runs, you only see around 500. The content of the image and caption could be more or less the same for higher engagement posts. So why did it underperform? Perhaps it got mixed up in one of Instagram’s timeline experiments. It’s important to be aware that although IG remains superior, it is not a perfect platform, and they have the right to run tests any day they want, including on the day you launch your huge influencer campaign. So it’s important to plan to over-deliver on your campaign to prepare for any change in their system.

The same goes if you are preparing to run any sort of promoted post. Promoting an influencer’s post on Instagram can be very tricky and the outcome can be nearly impossible to predict. We’ve seen virtually identical promoted posts range in engagement from 60,000 likes to 3 million. If you have the budget and time to experiment with promoted posts, it can be worth it. But it’s a tricky place to hold high expectations.

IGTV vs Stories

Remember when IGTV was supposed to be this new competitor to YouTube? I think we can all see that didn’t happen, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Many influencers still leverage their IGTV channels, but you have to do the research to see if it’s worth it. In general, large, celebrity influencer IGTV channels are performing well, but the mid-level influencer videos are underperforming.

Stories, however, have proved to be worth the effort. And influencers are starting to realize the major effect Stories can have on campaigns. Just think: a year ago an influencer would throw in a couple Stories for free, but now they can cost you more than an in-feed post (and it can be worth it)! With Instagram’s algorithm, many viewers are seeing Stories before every scrolling down to see posts. You also have an advantage when it comes to link clicks and conversions. Reading a caption, then going back to a profile then clicking on a link in a bio, is a few more unnecessary steps than simply just swiping up on an influencer’s story. The downside to Stories is that content approvals can take more time and many brands are still wary of the more casual nature of a Story versus a post.


It’s increasingly important to keep up with FTC guidelines and regulations. These can change without you even realizing. You know you have to have #ad in a post, but did you know it now needs to be above the fold? (And what is the “fold” on an Instagram caption?) This is another reason it could be best to turn to an influencer marketing provider whose job is to keep up with regulations from all applicable federal agencies and apply and monitor them during the entirety of your campaign. if you are a highly regulated industry, such as pharma or finance, keeping up-to-date is absolutely critical. You know more than anyone how language can land you in hot water, so control over the content is paramount. Taking time to catch up with any new rules of FTC, FDA or the SEC can save you a call from the executive suite in the future.

It’s A Lot To Keep Up With

It can seem like a lot to keep up with, but what fun would social media be if it was all the same all the time? In the influencer marketing industry changes will happen even when you least expect it. So be flexible during the planning and execution of campaigns when posts are showing lower than expected engagement. Leverage Stories to supplement campaigns, even though their engagement is less predictable than posts. Last, federal agencies have finally accepted that influencer marketing is here to stay, so new guidance and rules pop up monthly – stay on top of them! Learn to embrace and plan for the unpredictability and your campaigns will outpace those of your competitors every time.