Bayer’s U.S. pharmaceuticals division is about eight months into a plan that will see it transition to an in-house model for digital media strategy and buying by mid-2022.

The division started planning and buying digital media on Bayer-owned platforms on Jan. 1. By this time next year, all in-house digital media roles will be filled with Bayer employees, said Brian Cantwell, VP digital strategy and operations for the drugmaker’s U.S. pharma unit.

“We’re building an in-house media capability and data infrastructure,” said Cantwell. 

A transition agency, Media.Monks, is working with the drugmaker to support execution, under oversight of Bayer’s in-house lead, executive director, digital media strategy Erica Hawthorne. The company still uses a traditional media agency for non-digital media, such as TV and print.

“We’re moving faster than we had projected, but are still a few quarters out from that being complete,” Hawthorne said. 

The shift comes about two years after Bayer’s Consumer Health division, maker of brands such as Claritin and Aspirin, undertook a similar journey. The experience of colleagues on the OTC side “directly informed ours on the pharma side,” said Cantwell.

The retirement of third-party tracking cookies from Google’s Chrome web browser was originally slated for 2022. After pushback from advertisers, Google announced on June 24th that it would delay the plan until late 2023. Although third-party cookies are still used by many marketers to track behavior and optimize advertising, the Safari and Firefox browsers have been blocking their use for a few years. 

The changeover isn’t expected to be a barrier in healthcare, considering the way brands currently market. Nevertheless, pulling back digital media from their agency partners can help drugmakers prepare for the retirement of cookies, Hawthorne believes.

“If you use an agency, they own the data because you use their contracted platform,” she explained. “By doing all of this work on the ad-tech stack now, we own the data that we didn’t have insight into. So it helps us prepare better because we have the keys to the kingdom.”

Not all commercial-stage biopharma companies have the wherewithal to follow suit. Cantwell said those that don’t in-house their digital media may be at a disadvantage.

“The end result will be a lot of unsophisticated media buys that are probably overpriced and dependent on some walled-garden publishers and endemic plays,” he said. “We find that to be an inefficient way to engage customers with the right message.”

Recent research shows about 40% of pharma companies are relying on their agency partners to help them navigate cookie changes. For more data, trends and commentary on pharma’s path to a cookie-less future, see Cookies and Crumbs.