2018 was a year of controversy. From our national politics, to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, scandals over audience measurement of physician office digital displays, trust was broken.

As I write this, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is in front of Congress being questioned on matters of consumer privacy and what Google is tracking through its phones and phone software. This follows similarly awkward appearances by Facebook and Twitter. The Internet titans, after turning our data into “their product” are now themselves advocating for a national privacy protection law. It would be burdensome to comply with many disparate state laws, and a national law would conveniently build a strong barrier to entry for their future disruptors. That’s why my first three predictions this year are:

1. A national privacy law will either pass or take definitive shape on its way to passing and will significantly change the game of how digital advertising is executed, solidifying the industry titans in their top positions, and disrupting many others.

2. While we are fighting to advocate (supposedly) the rights of the consumer, the changes will largely impact business and the consumer will either:

  • (yawn) and not care.
  • Become annoyed with things like persistent and ubiquitous “opt-ins” or reductions of personalized services that can’t be seamlessly offered any longer without a web of consent.

3. While not necessarily an “incumbent” (yet) with respect to digital advertising, Amazon will take its place as the clear third horseman in digital advertising after Google and Facebook, with no one else coming close to these three. Their rise in advertising will be meteoric and game changing, especially for retail.

4. As pharma marketers explore native adverting or content advertising, they will have an “ah-ha” moment realizing that native is a “hand in glove” fit for the information rich, patient storytelling world of pharma branding and disease education. Native works well in all phases of the patient lifecycle, and it is cost effective to run and execute as well.

5. Following two to three years behind their CPG marketing counterparts, driven by procurement, pharma will begin serious internal discussions around “in-sourcing” elements of digital advertising. However, pharma is very comfortable outsourcing media, so these conversations are unlikely to result in pharma in-sourcing programmatic in its entirely, but they may result in in-sourcing elements of data control—such as “owning” the Data Management Platform (DMP) relationship. This will make it even easier to switch agencies in the future without significant loss of history.

6. Agency disruption: The disruption of the agency holding company which traces back to the loss of trust triggered by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) report on media transparency will continue. In 2016-2018, these were years of increasing agency musical chairs, but many of the agencies who won business were still part of holding companies, just different holding companies. In 2019, we will see the rebirth and rise of the independent agencies, as holding companies “right-size” to adjust for a new fee environment, as clients increasingly desire to work with principles, and as the whole industry works to rebuild trust.

7. Physician Authentication: Admittedly, I’ve been talking about this for a very long time. In 2011, for my 2012 predictions in this column, I wrote, “Continuing with the improved targeting of physicians, an increasing portion of the online advertising spend will be directed toward reaching authenticated physicians’ online as publisher’s roll-out more sophisticated registration systems.” In 2018, marketers were measuring exactly which HCPs are visiting their websites as a result of their marketing spends and…spoiler alert…shhhh (they weren’t liking what they saw). As a result, marketers are increasing the accountability of their agencies and publishing partners and insisting on knowing who they are reaching with their marketing dollars. This year is “all in” on HCP authentication.

8. The verifications of HCPs will become more wide-spread and scalable, pressure will mount on professional search budgets, which to date have been largely unaccountable and, like contextual advertising, have been justified through targeting more relevant professional terms (such as “myocardial infarction” rather than “heart attack”). But measurement of brand.com sites and the HCPs that visit them (or don’t) are putting a magnifying glass on professional search budgets as well.

9. Augmented Reality (AR) will continue to gain acceptance as a powerful tool for reps as well as for physician learning, breathing new life into older mediums of print. Advantage: Early adopters.

10. As difficult as it is today to imagine “life without the Internet” due to our heavy reliance on information at our fingertips, we are also becoming heavily reliant on the voice interface of Alexa and Google Home. This year will see some significant healthcare related tools come to the voice. Advantage: Early adopters.