Google is ramping up preparations for its phase-out of third-party tracking cookies in Chrome from 2024, and recently published a blog post entitled, ‘Preparing for the end of third-party cookies’ in which they advised, “it’s time to take action as we approach [cookies’] deprecation”.

There’s no denying that the impact of deprecating third-party cookies on marketing as a whole will be huge. However, different sectors take different approaches to ad targeting and measurement, and face different challenges and limitations with regards to data and privacy – so this won’t look the same across every sector.

Healthcare and pharmaceutical marketers, for example, have to navigate much greater sensitivity around the data they have access to and the way they present their marketing and advertising. To understand what this means for the deprecation of third-party cookies and how healthcare and pharmaceutical marketers can navigate this change, I spoke to Nick Cowling, Head of Performance at Everybody Agency, a digital marketing agency that specialises in working with health and wellness brands.

Econsultancy: What are the specific ways that healthcare and pharma marketing will be affected by the death of third-party cookies?

Are there any impacts that will be more, or less, severe than other sectors?

Nick Cowling: Although there are often difficulties with third-party targeting within the healthcare sector, it will still be impacted by the loss of third-party cookie data. Advertisers that rely on online behavioural signals to identify new and existing patients or health care professionals (HCPs) will need to look for alternative methods.

Luckily, due to the healthcare and pharma industries being so heavily regulated, there are already numerous ways to target niche patient and HCP audience sets that don’t rely on third-party data. Some of these options are broader than healthcare; however, there are some specific options that exist in healthcare that are not present elsewhere. Purpose built demand-side platforms (DSPs) and social platforms such as Pulsepoint and Sermo have a substantial amount of opted-in first-party data available for targeting, as well as key medical journals offering bespoke advertising solutions.

…contextual targeting will continue to dominate the healthcare landscape due to it being an extremely efficient way to reach users during specific stages of their patient journey.

Alongside these options, contextual targeting will continue to dominate the healthcare landscape due to it being an extremely efficient way to reach users during specific stages of their patient journey (symptoms > diagnosis > treatment > management) and connect with them whilst they are in their active mindset.

The contextual advertising boom: What is it, and how can brands take advantage?

E: What are your thoughts on Google’s interest-based ‘Topics’, the mooted replacement for cookies, and their usefulness for healthcare marketing?

NC: Google’s Topics have a much better level of granularity for healthcare marketing specifically when compared to affinity or in-market audiences, however as we primarily use Google for Search activity, we don’t have the benefit as an agency of being able to utilise these lists [which work across the Google’s display network and YouTube].

If these lists were made available to search activity it could be game-changing, having them layered on keyword targeting could offer new ways to become more targeted and efficient, or rely on broader keywords without losing the core audience.

That being said, there are many niche areas that we operate in, for example rare skin conditions or specific lung disorders, that might not gain anything from these audience sets due to them being broader and not delving into the niche.

E: How can healthcare and pharma companies make the best use of their owned first-party data – while still maintaining consumer confidence in data security?

NC: At the time of collecting the data it’s about being transparent for what it is being used for, auditing against key compliance rules and regulations based on the local market, and finally ensuring you’re only collecting the data that you need without anything unnecessary.

I believe the key to understanding [1PD] and using it in the right way is identifying where users are in their journey and categorising it correctly.

Once you have the data, I believe the key to understanding it and using it in the right way is identifying where users are in their journey and categorising it correctly. This will help with being able to decide the type of messaging you send, the user’s conversion action when they are engaged with it, and even the medium and channel of advertising you use to reach them.

For example, if you know a user is a patient and they are going through the treatment or management stages you could leverage tips and tricks to get the most out of this stage of the journey, whereas if you know they are moving from the symptom stage to diagnosis you could use paid search to have them interact with doctor discussion guides or help them learn more about savings card options (US only).

Preparing for the post-cookie world: Less than a third of marketers have a “robust measurement system” in place

E: What is the most important thing that marketers in healthcare can do to start preparing for the deprecation of third-party cookies?


  • Begin to move any display plans that are relying on behavioural targeting to contextual targeting and test the variables ahead of the phasing out to give enough time to optimise the inputs.
  • Look at the intersection between paid and organic search and use paid data to identify key areas of your site that can be optimised to improve visibility and rankings for organic search.
  • Identify other channels that could be impactful in your strategy that rely on first-party data such as email and social media marketing.
  • Look for new opportunities with key healthcare organizations that could provide insights and impactful alternative targeting opportunities that adhere to patient privacy rules.
  • Create new opportunities to collect compliant first-party data that can be used to refine the marketing approach going forward.

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