February 12th, 2020

Google Is Changing How Cookies Work. What Does This Mean for Sponsors and CROs?

Google and Cookies

Google recently announced it will phase out third-party cookies. How will this impact sponsors and CROS looking to recruit patients for clinical trials?

As consumers express growing concerns about data privacy and ownership, marketers are having to make adjustments to how they track and store users’ information. Google, for instance, is one of multiple companies moving to restrict third-party cookies, following similar initiatives by Apple and Mozilla.

Google’s decision to gradually phase out third-party tracking on its Chrome browser will have wide-ranging implications as Chrome currently makes up 71 percent of desktop use and 41 percent of the mobile market. In this article, we’ll examine how this update will impact sponsors and CROS looking to invest in digital patient outreach.

Why the Restrictions? 

Cookies are used to track site details such as configurations, login details, and conversions. Advertisers use cookies to profile consumers in order to serve them targeted content. There are two types of cookies, first- and third-party cookies. First-party cookies allow websites to collect data on their users and retarget them on that site, while third-party cookies help brands “follow” consumers across websites and platforms.

Over the past several years, third-party cookies have become an important strategy for digital marketers looking to personalize browser experience. For example, a consumer could shop for a pair of sunglasses online and then see the same pair of sunglasses advertised on another website. When Google removes third-party cookies, advertisers will no longer be able to use Google’s data to target consumers on other sites.

Recent rollbacks on cookie use are a direct response to users’ demands for greater privacy. Justin Schuh, Google’s Director of Chrome Engineering, comments: “Users are demanding greater privacy – including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used – and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands.” 

Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies also comes on the heels of new policies like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), both of which aim to restrict the sharing of consumer data.  

Given these factors, the industry will likely continue to retire third-party cookies. Therefore, brands that rely on third-party cookies to profile their customers may have to rethink their marketing strategies.  

What This Means for Sponsors and CROs 

Google’s update is a game-changer for many advertisers, particularly consumer brands who rely heavily on retargeting. However, given the strong regulatory environment surrounding healthcare products and services, sponsors and CROs may be in a better place to handle the change. 

Many clinical trial patient recruitment programs already exclude third-party cookies out of an abundance of caution, and have instead turned toward non-cookie patient outreach. This can include tactics like geotargeting or contextual advertising through direct ad buys, both of which can appeal to a highly interested and relevant patient base. Sponsors and CROs can also rely on a variety of channels from traditional search marketing to connected TV, which deliver effective results without depending on personal data.

Though the sun is setting on third-party cookies, first-party cookies will likely remain as part of the advertising ecosystem for some time. Digital ads on social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, etc. – will continue to reach massive audiences that comprise nearly 100% of some rare condition populations. Meanwhile, Google Ads will still allow sponsors and CROs to narrowly target potential patients by keyword. 

New privacy regulations will continue to cause a sea of changes in digital advertising in the next few years. However, sponsors and CROs can prepare by taking a privacy-first approach to patient outreach. The right partner can help navigate regulatory restrictions and technology trends to create a patient engagement strategy that complies with privacy best practices while delivering results.