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Case Study





Recruiting Patients for Clinical Trials: Omni-Channel Ad Strategy That Enrolled 322 Patients


monthly ad spend


ad spend ROI



Case Study Summary

The Challenge

The Solution

The Results

The Challenge

Our meta ad experts faced a difficult challenge for a Clinical Trial Recruitment Group servicing Big Pharma. Tasked with enrolling patients for studies in autoimmune and rheumatic chronic conditions, they needed to innovate beyond traditional methods like email registries and direct physician outreach.

With a mission to scale up online recruitment of patients in a digital-forward world, they were looking to use paid digital advertising to deliver on their large recruitment contracts – a task easier said than done.

The challenges of enrolling patients for clinical trials are three-fold:

Identifying the Right Marketing Channels

Finding and leveraging the right digital channels to reach patients is a difficult task. The digital footprint of patients online varies widely, influenced by factors such as age, stage of the disease, digital literacy, and personal preferences for online engagement.

Some patients might be active in specialized online communities or forums dedicated to specific conditions, while others can be more reachable through mainstream social media platforms or health-related websites.

Overcoming Regulatory Hurdles

The stringent FDA and health-related advertising policies across platforms add a second layer of difficulty when marketing clinical trials.

Clinical trials, especially in the pharmaceutical domain for investigational treatments, are heavily regulated to ensure patient safety and data accuracy.

This regulation extends to how trials are marketed and advertised so as to not identify sensitive personal health conditions while still being able to engage people online. Ensuring that every piece of digital outreach – from ad copy to imagery and landing pages – was not only compelling and effective but also strictly compliant with these regulations.

Missteps here can lead not just to ineffective recruitment but also to significant timeline delays, higher costs, legal, and ethical ramifications.

Qualifying and Building Trust with Patients

Qualifying patients for clinical trials and pinpointing the optimal channels for reaching them presents a challenge of considerable complexity.

On one hand, the process of qualifying patients is intricate due to the heterogeneous nature of the diseases and the very specific inclusive/exclusive eligibility criteria for individuals to be able to participate in a study.

Autoimmune and rheumatic conditions manifest in diverse forms and stages, each with unique symptoms and treatment history. This diversity means that a patient’s eligibility criteria has to be meticulously defined and rigorously screened, ensuring that only those who meet the specific requirements of the studies are enrolled.

Screening for eligibility involves a detailed assessment of demographics, medical history, current treatments, and specific disease characteristics, a task demanding both precision and thoughtfulness.

Beyond qualifying patients, the other challenge comes in building trust with patients that gives them confidence to want to learn more about the study and potentially participate.

This trust can be built through proper marketing materials, partnering with sources that patients already interact with and trust online, and providing a professional and warm process for them to learn about and go through screening for participating in the study.


The Solution

In the pursuit of creating effective and resonant ad campaigns, our experts started by first spending time interviewing the very individuals they aimed to reach — the patients.

clinical trial recruitment group patient zoom call

Understanding Motivations of Patients

This involved engaging with key advocates, particularly those who had first-hand experience participating in clinical trials. They explored their motivations, whether it was the hope for a better treatment, contributing to medical research and others with the disease, or personal recommendations and other motivations.

Equally, they delved into their concerns and apprehensions, aiming to address these points in the advertising strategy. This first-hand information provided a wealth of knowledge about the patient journey and the factors that influence the decision to participate in a trial, allowing our experts to craft an effective omni-channel advertising strategy.

Facebook and Instagram Ad Strategy

The strategic decision to focus primarily on Facebook and Instagram for recruitment campaigns hinged on the reach and community engagement these platforms offer. The approach was multi-faceted, combining the strengths of partnership ads, look-a-like audience campaigns, and direct targeting using existing subscriber lists.

Leveraging Partnership Ads: The core of this strategy involved the innovative use of partnership ads, a feature on Facebook and Instagram that allows for collaboration between brands, pages, and influential figures.

clinical trial recruitment group paid partnership ads

By partnering with influencers and nonprofit organizations the clinical trial recruitment group had formed over several years through organic content collaborations, our experts tapped into a pre-existing, engaged audience. These influencers and groups, each with more than 5,000 followers, had already established trust and credibility within disease communities. By running ads through these influencers' and nonprofits' accounts, they could directly target the followers of these pages – individuals who were already engaged in the conversation and likely to have a vested interest in clinical trials. The co-branded nature of these ads played a crucial role in building trust. When ads appear as endorsed or shared by a known and trusted figure or organization, they are more likely to be received positively. This trust factor is critical in sensitive areas like clinical trial recruitment, where skepticism and caution are common. Utilizing Look-A-Like and Customer List Audiences: Beyond targeting existing followers of these influencers and organizations, our experts also leveraged the power of look-a-like audience campaigns, a feature that enables advertisers to reach new people whose interests are similar to those of existing followers. This meant that they could extend reach to individuals who, while not directly following the nonprofit pages or influencers, shared similar profiles and interests, effectively expanding the potential recruitment pool. They also found strong engagement and success in creating look-a-like audiences for people who engaged with advertisements and/or who engaged with the clinical trial landing pages and screener applications.

clinical trial recruitment group lookalike audience

Beyond partnership ads, our experts utilized the clinical trial recruitment group’s own robust resource – an email list comprising of 32,000 subscribers across the target conditions being recruited. By uploading segmented versions of these lists by condition into Facebook and Instagram, they could target ads directly at individuals already engaging with their content, ensuring a higher likelihood of interest and engagement. Moreover, these lists were also used to create another set of look-a-like audiences, further widening the scope of the campaigns.

Display and Youtube Ad Strategy

In order to accommodate for Google's restrictions on remarketing healthcare related content, a nuanced and targeted approach, encompassing keyword content placements, domain and webpage targeting, and YouTube search campaigns, was implemented.

Keyword Content Placements: Bottom-of-Funnel Strategy Our experts implemented a bottom-of-funnel strategy by placing ads on webpages and YouTube videos that specifically mentioned clinical research, trials, or studies for each disease.

clinical trial recruitment group google ads display and video keywords

This involved creating a segmented lists of 80 to 600 relevant keywords and phrases, ensuring that the ads appeared in contexts directly relevant to the target audience. This precise targeting was designed to capture the attention of individuals already interested in or actively seeking information about research related to each condition. Top-of-Funnel Strategy Simultaneously, our experts employed a top-of-funnel strategy to raise awareness among those not actively seeking clinical trial information but engaged with disease-related content. This approach involved placing ads on webpages and YouTube videos mentioning each condition in a broader context, helping to identify new, high-performing domains, web pages, and YouTube targets. Domain and Webpage Placements: By analyzing data from keyword content placements, we identified domains and pages with the best performance in terms of engagement and relevance. New campaigns were then created, focused on these domains, targeting only pages that had good engagement and specifically mentioned these conditions.

clinical trial recruitment group youtube placement ads

This targeted approach helped to reach a more relevant and interested audience, enhancing the efficiency of ad spend. YouTube Channel and Video Placements: Recognizing the effectiveness of targeted YouTube placements, our experts identified relevant YouTube channels and videos for ad placements. By selecting these specific channels and videos, they ensured that messaging was delivered to an engaged and targeted audience, increasing the potential for capturing the interest of prospective participants. YouTube Search Targeting: Our experts also launched YouTube search campaigns targeting people searching for specific research-related keywords and phrases in addition to general disease-related keywords. This strategy aimed to capture the attention of individuals actively seeking disease study information, reaching a highly qualified audience while allowing the ability to separately target people who were looking up content related to each condition in general. This level of specificity was crucial in maintaining control over ad targeting in reaching individuals who demonstrated interest in research versus individuals who demonstrated interest in a condition.

Google and Bing Ad Strategy

Our experts segmented search advertising strategy into two distinct campaigns: bottom-funnel and top-of-funnel, each designed to address different search behaviors and intents. Bottom-Funnel Campaign: In the bottom-funnel campaign, they focused on individuals who were actively searching for terms directly related to clinical trials. This included specific keywords such as “disease name clinical trial,” “disease name study,” and “participate in disease name research.” The intent behind these searches was clear – these were individuals already informed about, and potentially interested in, participating in clinical trials. By targeting these keywords, the aim was to capture the attention of individuals at a more advanced stage in their decision-making process.

clinical trial recruitment group google ads keywords

These were people who had likely moved past the initial information-gathering phase and were actively considering trial participation. The ads for these searches provided direct information about our studies, with clear calls to action, facilitating a swift transition from interest to engagement. Top-of-Funnel Campaign: 
The top-of-funnel campaign targeted broader, more educational searches. These included keywords like “condition name treatments” and “condition name doctors near me.” The audience for these searches was likely in the early stages of their journey, possibly recently diagnosed, seeking diagnosis, or exploring treatment options. The strategy here was to introduce the concept of clinical trial participation as a viable option in their treatment journey. However, separating these campaigns since the search queries were much less indicative of interest and the individual being diagnosed or qualified. Our experts crafted ads and landing pages to be informative and reassuring, providing insights into the potential benefits of participating in a clinical trial. This approach was not just about recruitment; it was also about educating and empowering the community with additional options for their healthcare.

Health-Related Advertising Regulations

The task of navigating the stringent FDA, IRB, and platform health-related advertising policies added significant complexity to the digital outreach strategy.

Clinical trials, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector, are subject to intense scrutiny and regulation. These regulations are designed to uphold patient safety and ensure the accuracy and integrity of marketing content.

FDA Hurdles: Our experts invested considerable effort in understanding the intricate details of FDA regulations related to clinical trial advertising. This included guidelines on how trials should be presented to the public, the type of language that could be used, and the manner in which trial information should be disclosed. To navigate the complex regulatory landscape, they worked closely with legal experts the client contracted who specialize in healthcare and pharmaceutical advertising. Institutional Review Board (IRB) Hurdles: A critical aspect of the digital outreach strategy was compliance with Institutional Review Board (IRB) regulations. The IRB serves as an independent body that reviews and monitors research involving human subjects. Its primary role is to ensure the protection and welfare of these subjects. This involves assessing the ethical implications of the research methods and materials, including how the trials are advertised and participants are recruited. Our experts ensured that every aspect of the advertising and recruitment strategy was in line with IRB standards. This included the way they presented information about the clinical trials, the transparency of messaging regarding the risks and benefits, and the clarity of participant eligibility criteria. All advertising materials, including ad copy, visuals, and overall recruitment strategies, were submitted to an IRB for review and approval. This process was critical to ensure materials were not only legally compliant but also met the high ethical standards set by the IRB. Advertising Platform Policy Hurdles: With more than 300 different variations of ad copy and image/video ads, each tailored to resonate with target audiences across the various platforms, our experts uploaded all ad variants into each unique advertising platform as part of campaigns with a $0 budget.

This approach allowed them to submit ads to validate whether they would be approved by each ad platform without actually running them. This enabled them to gauge which ads would be approved or disapproved before submitting everything for IRB approval.

Landing Page Design and Optimization

Landing pages were the key destinations where advertising efforts would funnel potential participants. The aim was to transform these landing pages from mere sources of information to dynamic, conversion-optimized platforms, all while strictly adhering to the necessary health-related advertising policies.

Our experts built landing pages out to include the following:

Detailed Eligibility Criteria: Clear, concise sections outlining the eligibility criteria for the clinical trials. This information was crucial in helping visitors self-assess their suitability for participation, thereby improving the quality of leads. Explanation of the Participation Process: Detailed overviews of the participation process, showing what potential participants could expect. This transparency was key to building trust and encouraging visitors to take the next step. FAQs: A dedicated section for FAQs addressed common concerns and queries, further aiding in visitor education and decision-making. Information about the Study Sponsor and Network: Detailed information about the study sponsors and the clinical trial recruitment group facilitating recruitment services for each sponsor. This not only served to inform but also to build credibility and reassure potential participants of the legitimacy and importance of the trials. Screener Form Questions: To enhance the efficiency of recruitment, our experts integrated screener questions for each trial into the application form. These questions were designed to effectively filter out unqualified applicants early in the process, minimizing the workload of the clinical trial recruitment screening group and its partner clinics. Clinic Proximity Integration: A key feature was the inclusion of a clinic proximity tool, enabling users to effortlessly identify and select the clinical site nearest to them. This functionality not only streamlined the application process by automatically incorporating the nearest site details but also significantly boosted the conversion rate among applicants living in proximity to a clinic. A/B Testing: After launching, our experts continuously A/B tested multiple variants that had been IRB approved across landing pages to find the most effective setup for every audience. Experimenting with Study Page Cover Images Recognizing the impact of visual appeal, various cover images were tested for the study pages across different audience types. Varying Study Page Headlines Headlines were tested for their ability to capture attention and convey the essence of the trial ensuring that headlines resonated with target audiences. Refining Study Descriptions Experiments were run for different formats and lengths for the study descriptions, seeking the right balance between providing comprehensive information and maintaining user engagement. Highlighting Reasons for Participating Different iterations of presenting the reasons for participating were tested, highlighting benefits such as contributing to medical research, potential access to new treatments, and being part of a community effort. Optimizing Screener Application Questions The number and nature of questions in the screener applications were carefully balanced and tested to ensure thorough pre-qualification while minimizing drop-off rates.


The Results

122% Over-Enrollment in First Study

In the initial study engagement led by our meta experts, they achieved a remarkable 122% enrollment, registering 61 patient enrollments against a target of 50. This significant over-enrollment was a testament to the effectiveness of the targeted advertising strategies and optimized landing page design.

129% Over-Enrollment Across Four Studies

The success of the first study led to a follow-on contract for the same study and additional recruitment contracts for two more studies.

Across all four studies, they reached an extraordinary 129% enrollment rate, totaling 322 enrollments compared to the initial target of 250.

Impact on Clinical Research

Beyond the impressive enrollment figures, the campaigns had a profound impact on clinical research for each disease. By effectively reaching and engaging patients, our experts played a pivotal role in accelerating clinical research, contributing to the potential development of new and improved treatments.



study enrollments




contracts delivered

About the Author

raphael tosti founding partner headshot

Raphael Tosti

Founding Partner and Technical Lead

@Mookie Digital

Raphael founded Mookie Digital after training with Ex-Google partners and leading internal systems development and paid marketing for Bosch.

He leads tracking integrations, landing page design and development, video/image asset creation, analytics, and co-leads all advertising operations.

Date Published: 02.02.2024

Date Modified: 02.02.2024

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