Google's cookie ban delay prompts sighs of relief, but pharma advertisers shouldn't get complacent: digital media exec

With Google’s cookie ban pushed back again, pharma marketers can breathe a sigh of relief, right? Only for now, says Publicis Health Media’s chief digital officer.  

Third-party tracking cookies aren’t as important to pharma as they are to consumer marketers. Automakers, for instance, can follow online car shoppers, putting targeted digital ads in buyers’ paths as they move across the internet hoping for a sale.

However, privacy policies on most sites nix drugmakers use of third-party cookies to serve ads to people looking for diabetes or cancer information. Still, tracking data does matter in pharma—especially when it comes to measurement and analytics.

The good news for pharma is that Google's recent decision to delay its cookie kibosh on the Chrome browser translates into more time to prepare, said Ray Rosti, chief digital officer of Publicis Health Media.

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

“For once, pharma is ahead of the game,” he said. “But I don’t want to say it’s not going to impact us, it’s certainly going to.”

Last month, Google announced a pushback of the ban, citing the need to move slower “to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content.” Instead of the original plan for a 2021 shutdown, the ban will now take effect by the end of 2023. 

For pharma, the ban will likely have a bigger effect on ad measurement than ad serving.

Rosti said it's still unclear for now exactly how measurement will be handled, in part because without third-party cookies, pharma companies and their agencies are reliant on publishers to report back information on the ads served.

What the industry doesn’t want to happen is a default to a “last-click attribution” model, he said, meaning the publisher would only report the last place visited before an important action was taken.

For instance, if someone registered for a co-pay card and came to the registration site directly from a search, the search channel would get credit for driving the action. However, that single data point negates any other places the same person may have seen the ad such as social media or on a medical website like WebMD.

Currently, pharma advertisers can get detailed data on de-identified ad views across multiple websites, publishers and media.

RELATED: Swipe up for pharma? Consumers see more Facebook and Instagram ads, but search still rules

“Last click attribution would wreak havoc on the way we think about our channel mix, because (only) the last click will get credit, and we’re not going to really understand all the ways in which we influenced the patient,” Rosti said.

Pharma media agency partners like PHM will continue to work on solutions—they’ve just “gotten a longer due date on a large project”—giving them more time to test and learn and concentrate on fewer at one time.

Some of the ideas they're working on include building first-party relationships with patients, diving more deeply into contextual advertising and working on new ways to serve and measure ads inside publishing and media networks.

Pharma companies are counting on them. A recent Trinity Life Sciences study found that 58% of pharma marketers reported their ad agencies are developing alternate plans for when cookies disappear. Meanwhile, only 8% are developing their own internal strategies right now, 8% plan to work on strategies next year and 25% are still figuring out a plan.