On Friday the Food and Drug Administration slapped 14 warning letters on pharmaceutical companies for not including risk information in their Google Adword classifieds. After two years of doing nothing, the FDA decided to protect the public from dangerous ads like the one shown below:
Google Adwords are classified style ads that give you a whopping 70 characters to use. For the last couple of years most marketers were working on the “one-click” rule that suggested that the advertisement was in compliance if the reader was only one-click away from the full Package Insert or safety information.
It is of course impossible to list risk information in a classified ad format, and there are actually a couple of easy ways drug marketers can get around this. The first is to use ads that don’t actually mention the drug name or URL. For example, a weight loss remedy might use “Trying to lose weight? LoseWeight123.com can help” with the web address going to either an unbranded site or just redirecting to the branded site. The second way to get around the fair balance issue is to just partner with third-party surrogates who run unregulated health portals offering free trials or co-registration opportunities.
This surprise action from the FDA is troubling for three reasons:
- First, there are no clear guidelines from the FDA on how Pharma can use social media; they are forcing the industry to guess, experiment, and work in the dark.
- Second, the FDA action-without-guidelines smells like the work of clueless bureaucrats who don’t want the big job of understanding social media, but feel the need to cover their butts by enforcing the letter of the law even if it goes against common sense.
- Third, most troubling is that the FDA action will cause workarounds that are less transparent and more misleading to patients than the current practice.
John Mack’s Saturday blog post, http://pharmamkting.blogspot.com/2009/04/fdas-actions-speak-louder-than-its.html, calls on the FDA to hold a public hearing on the use of the Internet and social media for the promotion of drugs and medical products. This is an excellent and reasonable request. And I’d make one other suggestion, send a tweet to all the Senators and Congressmen and women who are on Twitter. Maybe they “get” social media better than the FDA and will see the sound reason of a request for a public hearing.
Get the full list of legislators on Twitter here: http://www.congressional140.com/tweeting.php. Send them this tweet, “FDA acts against Pharma on e-marketing, yet offers no guidelines! Please force public hearing. Details: http://tinyurl.com/cwqfza”