What Does iOS9 Mean to Pharma Advertisers?

Apple just released iOS9 which allows ad blockers. This means anyone surfing the web on an Apple device can block ads—your ads. The ones you use to create and build awareness for your products with doctors and patients.

Jasper Beard, Director of Marketing, Digital Lead – North America, ViiV Healthcare agrees, “This change will create a gap between marketers and the target audience.”

What does this mean for pharma companies that advertise online? For a start, reach will go down if ads don’t display. If part of your strategy is awareness—this may be a problem. Or will it?

Step back for a moment. How does ad blocking actually work?

The Code Behind Ad Blocking Software

The ad blocking software needs to know what an ad “is.” Ads are images. Without going too far down the rabbit hole websites load images all the time. But how does an ad blocker distinguish an ad for, say, McDonald’s, from the logo for the publisher? Typically, it does this by looking at the image string.

The HTML code for a logo—say, the Merck logo at Merck.com looks like this, http://www.merck.com/images/logo_Merck.jpg

The HTML code for an ad at Everyday Health looks like this, <ins class=”adsbygoogle tbx01-resp” data-ad-client=”pub-8415620659137418″ data-ad-slot=”8849838998″ data-max-num-ads=”2″ data-ad-channel=”1000000725″ data-adtest=”off” data-hints=”best and worst fall foods for menopause” data-safe=”” data-override-format=”true”></ins>

See this difference?

So does an ad blocker.

They recognize an ad because of the link. Ad blockers err on the side of caution. If this ad HTML had been, “imageForAd.png” like the MERCK logo, it likely would have shown it.

The problem for advertisers, agencies and publishers such as Everyday Health is Google tracks downloads and people. Analytics like this underpins multibillion dollar ad marketplace. Most sites need this because they didn’t build analytics into their system. They relied on Google to do it for them. That’s one big way Google makes money.

With iOS9, Apple seems to want to slow Google interceding in the relationship between advertisers and audiences at a publisher’s site on Apple devices—outside apps.

Beard sees this as good, “It creates an opportunity for us to identify better, more efficient and personal ways to get our messages to the right people. What I find most challenging and exciting about multichannel marketing is that the rules change frequently. With this recent iOS9 change, I will supplement web ads with something more personal. In addition, I will look closer at innovations that don’t rely solely on Google to serve the ads.”

Publishers, advertisers and their agencies have a choice—simplify the URLs for your web banner ads meant to drive awareness, not clicks. They will display—even in the ad blocking era. But that can reduce the value of digital ads—data.

Navigating Around iOS9

There is another solution to iOS9, go social.

Not all publishers rely on Google to serve or analyze ads. Social sites are a good example. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook is touching on these themes as she readies for Advertising Week. Facebook knows their users. They know to target ads across all devices—personalize relevant ads for each user and provide their advertisers with superior analytics.

Pharma advertisers need to seek out the sites that are or look and feel like social sites. They have the analytics to know what people do, what they like, who like they and what they click—including ads.

As a Google-free zone, these sites can return analytics to advertisers on all devices—even Apple devices.

iOS9 doesn’t end your web strategy, it just requires that you take a more social approach to your awareness and engagement strategy.

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