Jan 24 2024
Megan Reschke

Cookieless Advertising for Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Marketers


From Apple’s App Tracking Transparency to consumer privacy demands and resulting regulatory action, digital advertisers have grappled with widespread signal loss in recent years. But 2024 will bring even more drastic change in this area, as Google finally deprecates third-party cookies in Chrome after numerous delays. For healthcare and pharmaceutical advertisers, this shift adds yet another layer of targeting and measurement complexity to an industry that is already wrought with privacy-related regulations.

For insights and strategies to help health and pharma advertisers navigate third-party cookie deprecation and signal loss, we turned to Katherine Mitton, Director of Integrated Client Solutions at Basis Technologies. Read on for her top recommendations on weathering the identity crisis.

What are your biggest pieces of advice for health and pharma advertisers as we move towards a cookieless future?

Katherine Mitton: My biggest piece of advice is to set up systems that allow for the collection of as much HIPAA-compliant data as possible. If brands haven’t already invested in advanced customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and capabilities, that should be their top priority. Then, once they have those systems and solutions in place, they can shift their focus to building up their CRM list so that, once third-party cookies are completely gone, they can still understand who they need to target and build lookalike audience segments to extend that targeting.

Beyond that, it’s important for health and pharma marketers to maintain a mixed-funnel approach in their campaigns. When third-party cookies are gone, advertisers won’t be able to track their mid-to-lower funnel actions the same way they can now. Those mid-to-lower funnel tactics will remain an important part of a holistic media mix, but health and pharma brands will need to lean more deeply on historical performance to prove out their impact. We know that they work—we’re just not going to have the attribution for them anymore.

What cookieless marketing solutions are particularly useful for health and pharma advertisers?

KM: Beyond leveraging their own first-party data and CRM lists, health and pharma advertisers have several other options for privacy-friendly targeting solutions. Luckily, advertisers in the space already have experience navigating a lot of regulation (i.e., maintaining HIPAA and OCR compliance), so there’s a level of comfort with alternative targeting and measurement methods that advertisers in other industries may not have.

One cookieless solution that will be particularly useful in the health and pharma space is healthcare provider (HCP) targeting. Now is a great time for agencies to communicate the benefits HCP targeting offers their clients and to bolster the partnerships that enable it. That might look like working with third-party providers that specialize in healthcare systems and allow targeting based on providers’ specific specialties. Or, it might include leveraging platforms like LinkedIn that allow job title-based targeting, which is another way for health and pharma advertisers to get their message in front of doctors and other healthcare professionals without using third-party cookies.

Contextual targeting is another critical privacy-friendly targeting tool. If advertisers are trying to reach patients via contextual, that might look like placing ads for their products or services alongside relevant health info that prospective patients will likely be engaging with. And if they’re trying to reach HCPs, that strategy might include targeting medical journals, medical resources, and other online medical content that appeals to the HCP audience.

When it comes to attribution, leaning on historical performance will be key for lower-funnel tactics where pixel-based attribution isn’t going to be possible anymore. Agencies will need to educate their clients early and often about the impact of cookie loss on performance measurement and lead the way in resetting expectations. For instance, if one of their client’s paid search ads historically drove a lot of conversions, an agency can encourage their brand partners to continue to invest in those tactics even if they can no longer show the same attribution. Additionally, third-party brand lift studies can be a helpful way to measure success of campaigns without cookies. These studies are privacy-friendly and, when used in conjunction with historical performance, can help agencies and brands evaluate their ad campaigns and make data-driven decisions.

Could you provide some specific examples for how health and pharma advertisers might approach the cookieless future?

KM: Let’s imagine you’re a pharmaceutical company with a drug that treats a very specific condition. Your target audience is already pretty small, and targeting patients directly is tough due to HIPAA and OCR regulations. Your best options would likely be to do some contextual targeting based on keywords related to the condition your drug treats, and to leverage partnerships that enable the targeting of healthcare providers who treat the condition your drug is tied to.

As another example, let’s say you’re an agency that works with a telemedicine provider. I’d recommend investing in some contextual targeting based on keywords and driving folks who see those ads to a landing page where they can opt in for more information. Once that’s done, you’ll have first-party data you can leverage to target these audiences with customized messages based on the personal information they shared.

Wrapping Up: Cookieless Advertising for Health and Pharma Advertisers

With an abundance of industry-specific privacy regulations, healthcare and pharmaceutical marketers are navigating a complex advertising ecosystem even without third-party cookie deprecation. With widespread signal loss and the loss of third-party cookies, these teams must get even more intentional about how they target and measure their ads. By investing in the collection and actioning of first-party data, upping their contextual targeting spend, leaning on historical performance, and leveraging opportunities like HCP targeting, health and pharma advertisers can make the most of their ad spend in a privacy-first world.

Want to learn more about the state of identity in 2024? We surveyed over 200 marketing and advertising professionals to discover how they’re navigating signal loss, third-party cookie deprecation, and the shift towards privacy-first digital advertising. Check out all the latest data and insights in our in-depth report.

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