How Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Advertisers Can Respond to Climate Change

When strange, unseasonal weather rocks New York, those of us in the pharmaceutical advertising industry particularly take note. Normal weather patterns allows for predictable consumer behavior across many sectors. Recently, weather here and the rest of the world has been anything BUT predictable. Among the many environmental consequences of climate change, the pharmaceutical and healthcare community is looking at the impact this may have on the human immune system, airborne pollens, allergens, and seasonal shifts that may disrupt the cycles by which we counter illness. As a result, the digital advertising community that responds to consumer needs must change as well. Below is a summary of key areas where advertisers will need to make changes in order to stay ahead of this rapidly evolving sector.

Use Environmental Forecasting to Predict Spikes in Illness

Warmer conditions are allowing ragweed populations to spread more rapidly and over larger areas, creating explosive population spikes among asthma and allergy sufferers. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, their 2015 study, “Weezing and Sneezing” claims that 109 million Americans now live in counties with high ozone levels and significant ragweed. Additionally, climate change is challenging how pharmaceutical advertisers view target markets. For example, “The Asthma Capitals” – a ranking of the top 100 asthma cities in the United States, show significant fluctuation among its listed cities. The 2015 rankings include 6 new regions among its top 20 from the previous year, including Knoxville, Tennessee, which jumped from 41st to 7th place. This fluctuation can be measured by looking at key points of evidence within these regions, including annual pollen score, death rate from asthma, air quality, and the purchase of related medications.

Advertisers and digital media agencies need to avoid static, annualized advertising campaigns as they don’t account for environmental spikes and changing market areas in illness. Instead, incorporate predictive data and environmental forecasting that can give advance warning of market spikes and long term increases in the patient population.

Seasonal “Creep” Will Change How We View Seasonality

Seasonal “creep” or the modest shift in the onset of seasonal changes has many profound effects on pharmaceutical and healthcare advertising campaigns, such as the start of flu season and the severity and duration of illness. Science indicates winters are becoming warmer and shorter, spring is beginning days earlier, and summer conditions are expanding.(1) To keep up with the changes, campaigns must remain fluid, preparing earlier in the seasons and ready to launch once seasonal conditions dictate.

Avoid antiquated methods of predicting flu season and consider incorporating other data, such as IMS Health’s Allergy Alert Notification Tool, which studies and predicts the pollen count by region. This allows us to more accurately heavy up in heavily pollenated regions accordingly.

Expedite Campaign Creation for Agile Response to Climate Conditions

Since pharmaceutical and healthcare advertisers are highly regulated by a Legal-Medical Review process to ensure that product promotions are accurate and comply with Food and Drug Administration regulations, it is important to understand this process. In addition to the Legal-Medical Review Process, publishers such as Google apply its own measures to protect consumers and minimize instances of fraud or misleading advertisements. In some cases, they refuse to advertise certain products or services without exception. In other cases, they regulate messaging and restrict promotional claims. The process of clearing a digital advertising campaign with Legal-Medial Review and publishers can be a long process.

Plan ahead. Given the changes in illness outbreak and rapid fluctuation in seasonality and target markets, advertisers need to expedite the LMR process with early preparation and expert advisement while coaching creative teams through the legalities of their product claims.


  1. Magnuson, J.J.; Robertson, D.M.; Benson, B.J.; Wynne, R.H.; Livingstone, D.M.; Arai, T.; Assel, R.A.; Barry, R.G.; Card, V.; Kuusisto, E.; et al. (2000). “Historical Trends in Lake and River Ice Cover in the Northern Hemisphere”. Science 289 (5485): 1743–1746.


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