Online Drug Advertising

May 18, 2009

The FDA Cites 14 Companies for Negligent Online Advertising Tactics

In April 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to 14 pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers, citing them for negligence in how they presented information in online search engine ads delivered by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. The FDA asserted that when a consumer searches a medical condition, the cited manufacturers have created pop-ups and sponsored links that are misleading. For instance, some of the cited manufacturers created what the FDA terms "branded" ad content. With this approach, a search for information on diabetes, for example, produces information and links to a particular manufacturer and manufacturer's product (often a drug used to treat the medical condition). The FDA has advised the cited manufacturers that an unbranded approach is necessary; e.g. the link should connect to a site dedicated to the disease state (in this case, diabetes).

Sponsored links are provided by search engines to direct searchers to additional—and targeted—information. Concern has been voiced that consumers will now have to wade through an enormous amount of unregulated health information on the internet. Supporters of the FDA's decision applaud the FDA for recognizing the impact of online advertising and the FDA's desire to protect the public's safety. Regardless of consumer reaction to the FDA's decision, it's clear that a large number of pharmaceutical and biotech firms have used search engine ads to market their products and will need to take action to redirect their approach.