Google's dropping third-party cookies. Will pharma marketers need to adapt?

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Pharma companies face data challenges with Google's decision to drop third-party cookies, but already have head start. (Pixabay)

Google says it will phase out third-party cookie support within two years, and some marketers are lamenting the data loss.

The pharma industry, which has to work within strict privacy and regulatory boundaries, may be better positioned than others. Pharma marketers already use plenty of non-cookie tactics. But change is still on its way.

The move would rid Google search engine Chrome—which has a 69% share of the browser market—of third-party cookies that track and collect data about users.

Marketers use that data to target specific audience segments or deliver re-targeted advertising. Have you ever shopped for a pair of shoes online, only to see the same pair of shoes served up in ads as you surf other sites? Third-party cookies make that possible.

Third-party data is also used for measurement and analytics. So while consumers may be relieved to regain some privacy—and see fewer re-targeted ads—some marketers, not to mention the ad tech industry, are concerned about losing a data source about consumers and potential prospects.

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“In general, relevant advertising isn’t going to go away. It’s just that we’re going to see pivots and shifts in tactics and strategies that don’t rely on cookies,” said George Tarnopolsky, VP of programmatic at CMI/Compas.

But because of pharma's generally more conservative nature, as well as the higher demand for privacy around healthcare, the industry already has a head start in using non-cookie tactics, he said.

Some of those already-in-use pharma strategies include geotargeting, contextual advertising on specific websites, reaching consumers through keyword buys and the use of newer media channels, such as connected TV, that don't use cookies.

Crossix, which was acquired by Veeva Systems in September, is a data and analytics provider to the pharma and healthcare industries, and it does use some third-party cookies. However, CEO Asaf Evenhaim says new solutions are needed anyway.

“Today third-party cookies today are critical to the business model of the Internet, but it’s time to evolve to a better privacy-safe solution for targeting measurement and other legitimate applications,” Evenhaim said via email.

He said nothing will change in the short- to medium-term as the industry adjusts, but added, “Crossix is the leader in privacy-safe analytics for the pharma industry and is well-positioned to adapt to the changes ahead." The company recently published a blog post further explaining its position.

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CMI/Compas’ Tarnopolsky offered some ideas about what pharma companies should be begin to do to prepare for the change. For one, marketers should begin to talk to their data and analytics suppliers about how they plan to deal with the cookie changes and make sure to include the discussion in any ongoing or future data agreements.

Another step pharma can take is to start—or continue—to diversify into marketing tactics that don’t use cookies, he said. Develop direct relationships and explore content partnerships with publishers who are first-party data collectors, for instance.

“The intent of this is good for internet users," Tarnopolsky said. "Users are demanding greater privacy choices, which is reflected in the current legislative climate with GDPR and CCPA etc. So it’s clear that advertising needs to evolve accordingly."

"Cookies are outdated pieces of technology that don’t make it easy for users to control their privacy choices, so it’s needed,” he added. “Once we round the corner, we’ll be in a better place from the perspective of user opt-in and respecting privacy choices.”