Bayer pharma goes all-in for digital media buying, moving external operations in-house

In an increasingly digital world, information is kingAnd managing data is a big reason Bayer is moving its digital media buying in-house. The move from the pharma business follows its consumer group sibling Bayer Consumer Health Division’s switch to in-house digital media buying more than two years ago.

For Bayer, even more important than the obvious savings from not paying an outside agency is the fact that bringing buying in-house means more effective and efficient data control.

“Digital media and our ability to improve the return on investment of our digital media in dollars is at the core of this,” Brian Cantwell, Bayer Pharma’s vice president for digital strategy and operations, said.

While hand-wringing over Google’s plans to eliminate cookies next year has multiplied, Cantwell said it wasn’t a deciding factor in Bayer's push to move media in-house. Instead, Google's move serves as confirmation that the company is making the right choice in moving to manage data more directly in what will become a post-cookie world.

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“We realize that in order to succeed in the 21st century, we need to have more robust digital capabilities to meet our customers where they are on the digital channels where they're consuming information and looking to make better decisions about their health,” Cantwell said.

To facilitate the changes, Bayer is building a dedicated department of in-house digital specialists that includes analytics, branding and creative experts.

“We're really looking across the board at building differentiated in-house digital capabilities to support our overall transformation," he said.

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While consumer marketing has increasingly brought digital media buying in-house, pharma has been slower to move. Cantwell believes Bayer is the first pharma to fully commit to the new model.

The anticipated challenge of the shift has fortunately for Bayer turned out to be more worrisome than the actual move. The operational move on Jan. 1 was “seamless" Cantwell said.

The bigger challenge he sees is a cultural shift from basic pharma duties to in-house strategic media planning and buying. For now, Bayer is using a specialist bridge agency to ease the transition from the old outsourced model to the new one with the goal of a staff of full-time employees by mid-2022.