Pharma and life sciences marketers were reluctant to embrace programmatic advertising as fast as other industries did back when the first real-time bidding platform emerged in 2007. Since then, programmatic has steadily risen with programmatic digital display ad spending estimated to increase from $35.6 million in 2017 to $79.75 million in 2021 across all industries, according to eMarketer. And over time, we have seen life sciences marketers grow more comfortable with the use of programmatic buying, though still not to the extent of their consumer packaged goods brethren.

That’s because working in the highly regulated space of the life sciences industry forces marketers to be extremely cautious not to violate any patient privacy regulations—and new privacy issues are always emerging online. In recent years, we have seen the General Data Protection Regulation (GCPR) pass in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the U.S. Not to mention, individual browsers make changes to how they allow for data tracking on websites. With some of these changes, and others that might come down the road, how comfortable should life sciences marketers be using programmatic? To put your mind at ease PM360 asked 10 experts:

  • How do data privacy issues impact the ability of life sciences marketers to use programmatic advertising? How can life sciences marketers safely use programmatic without fear of violating HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA, and other similar privacy regulations?
  • Besides data privacy, what other regulation or safety concerns should life sciences marketers be most aware of when using programmatic advertising? What general best practices can marketers follow to ensure they remain compliant in all facets while taking advantage of marketing automation platforms?
  • How will Google’s plan to follow both Apple’s Safari and Mozillia’s Firefox in eliminating third-party cookies impact programmatic advertising? How will ad tech solutions be able to compensate or adapt to the demise of third-party cookies?
  • What does the future of programmatic advertising look like? What upcoming or recent changes may have the biggest effect on how life sciences marketers use programmatic moving forward?

Jim Lefevere

The digital marketing landscape is constantly evolving and many industries have been able to leverage the shift to digital and harness the opportunity. However, healthcare and pharma still remain restrained in their use of new ad technology. The continued slow turn towards digital and programmatic ad buying in particular remains rooted in a few inherent tendencies, including concerns around data and privacy.

While there was hesitation to determine how GDPR and U.S. state-level privacy laws (CCPA) regarding data usage would impact programmatic, buying platforms have worked to address these concerns. Increasingly, privacy concerns can be managed effectively through the use of ad fraud and brand safety rules. Now 10 years old, digital media spending and programmatic advertising continues to grow as industries such as retail continue to shift ad dollars online.

Trends in Programmatic to Watch

The ongoing third-party cookie phase out (Firefox, Google, and Apple) will push changes to ad buying towards walled gardens, such as Facebook and Amazon, and drive more focused ad placement to fewer, more well-known websites. Contextual targeting will also see an increase as more focus is placed on user intent and search keywords.

Macro trends will continue to influence and drive decisions in healthcare and pharma spending. Pharma marketing has been in a transitional phase for the last decade. As organizations continue to come under various forms of upheaval and disruption, cost pressure will continue and trickle down to marketing planning. This continued pressure will lead to two fundamental changes. First, marketing leadership will need to change to those who are digital natives and inherently understand digital’s efficiency and effectiveness. Secondly, the new leadership will drive changes in marketing planning and inevitably accelerate the shift to digital and programmatic advertising.

Michael Blanche

While no one can deny the impact from Google Chrome’s third-party cookie phase-out, we actually see this as a once in a generation opportunity to disrupt the way marketers approach consumer engagement and create a more meaningful, privacy-focused ecosystem. This disruptive change requires a fundamental shift in the way companies approach the consumer and places an increased scrutiny on the platforms and technologies companies use to conduct advertising efforts.

Historically, third-party cookies have acted as somewhat of a backbone for many companies; however, recent changes to Consumer Privacy Acts such as GDPR and CCPA are focused on ensuring that user data tracking occurs only with their consent and transparency. When it comes to digital advertising specifically, the impact of scrapping the third-party cookies will be felt on all the components of the programmatic advertising environment because for almost two decades the industry has been dependent upon third-party cookies for various purposes such as retargeting, conversion tracking, etc.

Navigating a Future Without Cookies

While certain areas of advertising will be impacted, other tactics will still stay pretty much the same. If you’re a marketer who has thrived on third-party data for online audience targeting strategies, you might be worried about how to navigate this juncture. Understanding that modern consumers are also demanding greater privacy—including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used—it becomes critical to have a partner that has invested extensively in building a technology and integrations to allow advertisers to maximize their first-party data assets and siloed customer touchpoints to create and enhance their own consent-driven audiences and measurement solutions.

In this new future, companies that are nimble and act fast to integrate tools that help build a direct, consent-driven relationship with the user will be at a significant advantage.

Brian Hogan

Data privacy has always posed a challenge for life sciences marketers leveraging programmatic advertising. Advertisers need full transparency into sourcing tactics to verify the data is aligned with privacy requirements—i.e., where does it come from (publisher? pharmacy?), how is it collected (medical record? survey?), and did the consumer provide consent to share it for marketing purposes (explicit or implicit)? Beyond privacy, marketers must also consider the quality of the data itself. Questions to keep in mind include the timeliness of the data, and whether the data is based on a predictive/look-a-like model or volunteered directly by the consumer. Advertisers that can deliver targeted experiences while still demonstrating respect for consumer privacy will be most likely to gain customers’ loyalty and trust.

Standardizing Identifiers Across Channels

With Google joining other tech giants in eliminating third-party cookies, the industry will need to find a new way to facilitate targeting, frequency capping, and attribution. Initiatives such as Google’s Privacy Sandbox and the IAB’s Project Rearc are encouraging cross-industry collaborations in pursuit of solutions that will improve the digital ad ecosystem. Universal identifiers present one option, but they leave control with browsers and can lead to more challenges—such as when Firefox rejected DigiTrust’s universal ID or Apple’s changes to IDFA. The most likely and realistic option: an identity-based identifier that is sourced from first-party, deterministic data and tied to privacy preferences.

The Power of Advanced TV

With the rapid adoption of connected TV, life sciences advertisers should be able to eliminate $100MM in wasted TV ad spend. Advanced TV enables advertisers to target and serve ads to specific households and subscribers, rather than broadcasting the same messaging to all households. Leveraging data, science, and software to enable more granular audience segmentation and targeting, advertisers can gather valuable learnings and drive measurable outcomes.

Raquel Rosenthal

Healthcare and life sciences are some of the highest regulated industries. Consumer health and medical record information is heavily protected, which can create major challenges for marketers who want to invest in programmatic. But challenges often give the best rewards and this certainly rings true in this case. To take on programmatic with confidence, healthcare and life sciences marketers should consider the following:

Understand Data Consent: It is essential for marketers to acknowledge the NAI’s regulations pertaining to the collection of healthcare data before implementing programmatic strategies. According to the NAI, consumer consent of data collection is mandatory when sources pertain to sensitive health conditions such as mental health, cancer, HIV, AIDS, etc. When it comes to less urgent conditions such as dieting, acne, colds, or allergies, however, data collection consent is no longer necessary.

Target Based on Interest: Consumers cannot be targeted or retargeted by healthcare brands based on health conditions, but they can be targeted based on their interests in conditions or symptoms. Healthcare and life sciences marketers can use what is known in the form of past content consumed to programmatically deliver ads. Though marketers cannot target someone with a specific disease, condition, or sickness, they can promote offerings to general audiences that search for similar symptoms.

Target Based on Content: Healthcare and life sciences ads can be programmatically placed next to related content on publisher sites. An example of this may be an ad for an anti-inflammatory drug being placed alongside an article about stomach pain and bloating. Marketers can also use inclusion lists to place advertisements along publisher content that is proven to match the interests of target audiences.

Sloan Gaon

No one can say we haven’t been given a long runway to adapt to the demise of the cookie. So, as an industry, we really should be prepared for these changes. Firstly, programmatic advertising is not going to go away. We’ll just change the data inputs and targeting technology that we use.

For example, we’re getting more sophisticated with contextual targeting. Technology is enabling us to get more refined in assigning and classifying context relative to audience motivations, and the industry will mature in how it uses context to deliver a real-time portrait of audiences as they move across content, platforms, and devices.

Additionally, publishers (and some brands) are getting into the data gathering business, even changing their business model or core product to facilitate opt-ins and wide consent. As a result, there will be a renaissance in first-party data, of high utility per publisher, but higher still when aggregated.

The Future of Programmatic

Programmatic advertising has, since the beginning, been on a progressive journey of innovation. So while change isn’t new, these latest changes actually represent a point in time worthy of some reflection. Consumers have understandably driven the current wave of regulation to protect their health data and their privacy. But we should be asking ourselves, “why?” and exploring their motivation.

The next version of programmatic marketing, which is still being designed for a post-cookie world, gives us as an industry the opportunity to consciously and deliberately focus on countering consumer objections by delivering tangible, direct health value to our audiences in return for the privilege of using their data. Currently, we design campaigns to deliver reach, performance, and ROI. These are sometimes in antithesis to, or at the cost of, customer benefit metrics. I believe that in the future, customer and brand metrics will be much more aligned.

Hannah Farmer

A long history of HIPAA and FDA guidelines has standardized the use of robust medical, legal, and regulatory review and quality assurance processes—this benefits life sciences marketers when thinking about the introduction of and adaptation to new regulations. They will continue to be able to use programmatic, but with the ecosystem shifting quickly, it is critical for brands to have trusted subject matter experts in programmatic and regulatory compliance that are conversing with each other and have mutual understanding of audience creation, distribution, and measurement as well as which parts of each are affected by the law(s).

Know Your Chain of Accountability

It’s important to understand what these regulations are and what they mean: HIPAA, GDPR, and CCPA often get grouped together in our world, but are actually quite different and should be treated as such. Marketers should map out the entire chain of vendors touching a particular audience/audience data. We’ve started calling this the “chain of accountability”—if and when we need to manage new opt-out workflows based on CCPA, this is a key piece of that puzzle. Lastly, ask questions of all of the partners in your chain of accountability: where they are getting their data, how is it de-identified, what is the mechanism of consent for the use of that data, where and for how long is it stored, etc.

A healthy dose of fear is expected—and productive—when dealing with compliance and new regulations. It helps marketers stay sharp and encourages them to keep asking questions. Be wary of partners quick to say “it won’t affect us” or falling into a trap of just checking the box that a partner is compliant without truly understanding how. Forge a path forward where everyone is not only comfortable with your programmatic approach, but excited about it.

Chris Paquette

The elimination of third-party cookies in Google Chrome will fundamentally change the technologies used to power—and keep free—the open internet.

With these resources no longer available, marketers and publishers will require access to new tools that can link a marketer’s first-party customer data with publishers’ first-party audience data and media.

Today, several ad technology companies are rising to create privacy-safe, opted-in cookieless solutions for cross-website connectivity and data sharing. While it is hard to predict the winners and losers, some aspects of the future are certain:

1. Brands and publishers that own first-party data will emerge stronger and continue to invest in robust customer datasets. Publishers that do not have these assets will fail to receive sufficient ad spend and disappear in droves because they offer little to no value exchange with their users

2. Ad-tech companies that connect brands and publishers directly will be vital partners for marketers who want to serve ads using first-party data. The next generation of programmatic platforms will be vertical-specific and have all the bells and whistles of a demand-side platform (DSP), with the notable addition of direct publisher partnerships. They will also offer offline data enrichments to help increase the ROI of their ad campaigns and allow publishers to get full value out of their audiences.

3. Contextual media will never replace audience-based advertising. Media investments will prioritize audience-based strategies over contextual buys, even if that means the marketer needs to manage innumerable publisher relationships.

4. The advancements of operational efficiency within digital advertising will not go away. Programmatic is not just about cookies and platforms. It is about saving time and effort to reach the right audiences and run effective campaigns.

Josh Hare

According to eMarketer, in 2020 spending on digital advertising in the healthcare and pharma industry will grow by 14.2% to reach $9.53 billion, making it the fastest-growing industry after computing products and consumer electronics. While marketing to healthcare providers isn’t subject to strict regulation, certain kinds of life sciences marketing—such as marketing pharmaceuticals to consumers—is. That said, programmatic is rife with opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry.

Compliant and Deterministic Data

With the right approach, pharmaceutical marketers can leverage programmatic and take advantage of its benefits while remaining privacy compliant. For brands and agencies, it is important to make sure any technology partner they work with has integrations with data sources that are HIPPA compliant, such as companies like Crossix and Symphony. Data provided by these companies limits potential risk, as all the legwork to ensure the data is safe to use for marketing purposes has been done before it is ever actionable by a marketing team.

Brands and agencies should also ensure their technology partner is leveraging high-quality deterministic data for more accurate targeting and measurement without reliance on cookies. If your partner handles EU resident data, make sure they abide by all rules set forth by GDPR—even if your organization is based in the U.S. The same goes for regulations set by CCPA, even if your organization is located outside of California. Once privacy regulations have been addressed, life sciences marketers can leverage programmatic to connect with their target audiences in a compliant, transparent, and appropriately personalized manner.

Ray Rosti

One way to remain compliant in your programmatic activations is to rely heavily on digital behavior in the form of content consumption within the endemic landscape. Because this type of targeting is content-focused rather than audience or data-focused, it doesn’t fall within the current and impending data privacy regulations. The deprecation of third-party data, however, will have an impact on broader demographic audience targeting activations focused on higher funnel patient identification initiatives. This change will certainly shift patient marketing towards modeled audiences that can be targeted through a means beyond third-party cookies.

Meanwhile, Google’s plan to eliminate the use of third-party cookies within browsers is really a change that benefits Google under the guise of data privacy. Since a large percentage of Google platforms such as Gmail, YouTube, and Chrome request users to be logged in, Google is able to categorize those logged-in users as first-party data and can offer those audiences to advertisers within their walled environment. Within the open web, the adoption of a federated identity solution will certainly be an important step to reduce the dependency on third-party cookies. Regardless of the outcome, these changes make it more challenging for marketers to move towards omnichannel targeting, personalization, and measurement.

The Importance of Brand Safety

Beyond data privacy and third-party cookies, brand safety should be an area of focus for marketers. The health, economic, and social challenges that we are currently facing have shed a bigger spotlight on where ads are being served. So, marketers should pay close attention to the controls for inclusion and exclusion lists, contextual targeting, and brand adjacency as they continue to evolve their approach to programmatic planning and activation.

Michele Marzan

Programmatic advertising as a principle in the U.S. healthcare market is ripe for disruption. For the first time in recent history, healthcare digital advertising spend is forecast to overtake healthcare TV ad spend by 2021, according to Zenith Media. This means that healthcare digital advertising spend will soon account for 46% of all healthcare ad spend.

When we think of recent changes that will affect how life sciences marketers use programmatic moving forward, we have to widen the net and think about the advertising industry at large. Privacy has always been key in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Strict compliance regulations are typical for healthcare practitioners. However, now marketers must challenge themselves to think about how those same regulations translate over to first-party data usage in digital campaigns.

Consider Your First-Party Data Approach

For example, marketers must think of, and account for, the imminent death of third-party cookies, new limitations placed on Apple’s IDFA, and, most recently, lawmakers calling for immediate reformations of antitrust laws. If we thought privacy was key before, recent events only further amplified that sentiment.

Now is the time for life sciences marketers to be transparent with customers in their use of first-party data. Customers want a customized, digital approach. It is truly one of the only ways to advance patient care forward. We just must be delicate in how we go about it.

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