What Should Pharmaceutical Companies Take Into Account When Doing Search Engine Marketing

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. has extensive advertising guidelines for prescription drugs, some of which is applicable to digital and social media marketing.

As novel forms of advertising appear, especially in the online medium, the guidance from the FDA is often applied to these new opportunities, even if it does not fit exactly.

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Following are some FDA guidelines and how they apply to search engine optimization and marketing.

Fair Balance

Typically, FDA requires that pharmaceutical ads provide a “fair balance” of information on both a drug’s risks and its benefits.

This is the reason why at the end of TV commercials for prescription drugs, you often hear that long list of side effects and risks. This is in line with the fair balance principle, in order to counterbalance the information during the commercial that demonstrates the drug’s effectiveness.

Reminder Ads

On the other side, there are reminder ads that mention the drug’s name but do not touch on its use. As a result, a reminder ad does not contain risk information about the drug because the ad does not highlight how well the drug works.

Since reminder ads contain neither the benefits nor risks of the drug, these are exempt of the fair balance requirement. The ad serves solely as a reminder to consumers who are already familiar with it.

Since search text ads are limited in characters, the guidance for reminder ads is often used.

An ad falls under the “reminder ad” guidance because it contains the drug’s brand name but does not mention the disease or condition it treats. If it did, the “fair balance” principle would apply, and the risks would need to be disclosed. This obviously is not possible, as it would be significantly longer than standard text ad character limits.

Moreover, keep in mind that the “reminder ad” guideline is not specifically targeted towards digital marketing efforts and is applicable to many forms of advertising.

Space Limitations

The FDA also has guidelines for “Internet/Social Media Platforms with Character Space Limitations.” This guideline can also be applied to search text ads and is slightly different from the reminder ads policy.

Under this policy, if a brand highlights the benefit of the drug, then the risks must also follow. The difference is that if there is not enough space for the entire list of potential risks, it has to list them in the order of their seriousness.

This is slightly clunky and has a poor appearance in the search engine results, leading to many pharmaceutical companies avoiding this format. Almost all companies will try to position text ads within the reminder ad guideline.

Note: the legal information provided here is just that — legal information, and not legal advice.

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