Article: Programmatic - The Evolution of Marketing Automation - Feb 2020

By DHC and the Experts


Programmatic for Pharma Won't Be Hurt by Privacy Trends

Programmatic is not going anywhere. Despite the recent questions swirling due to data privacy changes (GDPR, CCPA, and the impending “cookie-less” reality), industry experts agree programmatic for pharma will not be hurt by increased privacy legislation or trends. The bull market position taken by thought leaders is that scaling back now on programmatic “will risk major missed opportunities for greater ROI and better attribution.” Across all sectors, U.S. programmatic media spend totally roughly $60 billion dollars in 2019, and is conservatively estimated by eMarketer to increase to over $80 billion by 2021.

Why won’t privacy changes be a death knell for programmatic in pharma? Intouch Group’s EVP of Media, Justin Chase explains:

“In the near-term, increased privacy will not hurt health agencies and brands who are responsibly using data, nearly as much as it will other industries who are more cavalier with their data stewardship policies. The healthcare industry is already somewhat insulated from the impact of these changes due to the high privacy standards associated with HIPAA, as well as those employed by client MLR teams.
The involvement of these MLR teams and other regulatory voices inside pharma has perpetuated the use of proxies and other creative targeting methodologies that emphasize non-personally identifiable information. For years Pharma advertising exclusively revolved around contextual targeting and although that can still be used today, pulling dollars out of Programmatic is a major miss for brands that need some layer of targeting to reach their audiences effectively and efficiently, rare disease being just one example.”
Justin Chase

CMI/Compas’s VP of Programmatic, George Tarnopolsky agreed that operationally, pharma has already been working beyond just cookies, particularly with regard to HCPs. “Especially on the topic of HCP media buying, healthcare is already uniquely addressable, as we currently transact on NPIs.”

RJ Lewis

In other words, please take a moment to thank your MLR teams! Lots of great work has already gone into creating a path forward where marketers will be able to succeed in a post-cookie world. RJ Lewis Founder & CEO of ehealthcare Solutions addressed the landscape and distinguished between HCP and consumer efforts currently:

“HCP marketing has always been a safer area since physicians and healthcare professionals are customers of the brand. I think good HCP marketing, that personalizes and customizes the clinicians experience, and leveraging data that is obtained through opt-in by a legitimate publisher or reputable source is and will continue to be the best examples of programmatic marketing. When you enter the world of consumer targeting and the myriad of data brokers selling audience segments, the water gets murkier.”

Evaluating the Next Evolution of Consumer Marketing Automation

When evaluating the next evolution of consumer marketing automation, the early front runner is clearly system which relays on 1st party data and a unique user/device ID. For the biggest players, this data is already at hand, while for others, work still needs to be done on developing this important resource, often using a third-party such as Adobe, Salesforce, and/or the expertise of an agency partner. According to experts, most 1st party data banks are currently further ahead on mobile device ID, which is already collected along with cookies, but most DMPs are working to pivot to unique user IDs now.

Chris Neuner, CEO of PulsePoint assures the following:

“As long as an advertiser can demonstrate 1st party ownership of data, you will be able to continue to use your 1st party data through Google and others, even if it passes through an intermediary, such as a trading desk.”


Apple Device ID: IDFA  |  Google: GoogleID  |  LiveRamp: IDL

When looking at current landscape within pharma cos, there’s a spectrum of approaches to both ownership of programmatic decisions and even the trend to bring programmatic trading desks in-house. As the connection point of customer journey mapping and marketing automation draw closer, the decision maker’s job function is still widely varied. Brand Teams, Digital COEs, Multi-Channel, Media… all these voices can be reasonably expected to understand and take charge of programmatic depending on the organization.
Further, there is scrutiny of the recent trend by the largest manufacturers to bring programmatic in-house. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that most of these internal trading desks were not an immediate success. The breadth of expertise required is significant, requiring deep knowledge of not just media and data, but also the tech stack, all this in addition to challenges around integrating with the internal team and culture. The urgency to have someone that speaks data and understands all the tech pieces is there even when pharma cos. do not attempt the in-house route. In fact, one expert we interviewed indicated that “Programmatic Trader” is arguably the hottest job in the industry right now.

Thinking Critically About the Customer Experience

As marketers reframe the thinking around the use of 1st party data, it will be important to think critically about the customer experience across the journey. Plugging in to each key part on that path will provide more control over data, and more insight into designing a highly targeted campaign. Unlike goliath brands with super bowl budgets and mass media campaigns, teams relying on a narrow audience segment understand that the greater the degree of targeting, the greater the opportunity for success. Marketers on specialty brands should be students of programmatic, where the ability to layer in an incredible amount of data criteria as a part of the automated ad buy and real-time bidding process is key.
For smart marketers tracking the innovation curve for marketing automation, it means embracing that it’s less about 1 to 1 targeting and more about contextual marketing. It will be key to become even better at understanding the patient and their attributes, and then target based on “everything else” we know about them.

It also means that marketers charged with overseeing programmatic need to be educated on industry best practices around targeting for sensitive health conditions. For example, it’s important to know what tactics are restricted by the top tier platforms. And while we earlier mentioned that MLR often plays a key role in keeping their marketing counterparts on the right side of these issues, one should not assume that there’s a corporate-level policy already in place. RJ Lewis suggests…

“As with any business practices or partnerships, marketers are advised to work with credible trustworthy partners. They should understand media at a greater level than most do. Media has long been outsourced and delegated, but the accountability for responsible actions and brand and data safety, fall to the brand marketer and cannot be delegated.”

When navigating the ethics around targeting, a key resource for marketers, agency, technology partners and publishers is the National Advertising Institute’s (NAI) release of Guidance for Health Audience Segments. Several of the experts we interviewed all pointed to the January 2020 release of these guidelines as an important step for the industry. Among the highlights is the reinforcement of the position that the use of health data, retargeting, and geo-targeting for health audience is not endorsed. In a recently issued POV, Crossix experts noted two top areas under “targeting approaches to avoid.”

Targeting Approaches to Avoid

  1. “Segments containing some individuals based on their actual healthcare data.”

  2. “Any health targeting approach that uses Sensitive Information, such as actual medical records or online browsing behavior, requires opt-in consent from users.”

Looking Forward

Experts agree that the landscape will continue to shift further towards 1st party data-centric approaches, while additional details around the changing privacy rules for 3rd party data and cookies are fully understood. There is also a sense of consensus that most  of the privacy regulations will continue to be at the state level, requiring marketers to pay close attention to privacy best practices, starting with understanding the NAI Guidelines and their individual organization’s policies. 

George Tarn

The DHC and the subject matter experts represented in the membership will continue to analyze the innovation opportunities around programmatic.  Today, we will leave the reader with this insightful summary of the immediate future from George Tarnopolsky:

A shift to non-cookie based tactics will make programmatic more interesting, as buyers will need to get more creative in their tactic and strategy mix. For example, instead of using a cookie-based data segment that represents a patient population, a programmatic media buyer may now combine Private Marketplace, keyword contextual, geography, and time of day targeting—while also leveraging high engagement Video or Native creative ad units.

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