The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) held hearings for the last two days on the issue of drug promotion on the internet and social media. Of key concern – drug ads on Google and elsewhere were missing critical health side-effects information which is mandatory in other media formats such as print, radio and television. To help clarify the issue, heavy weights such as Google, Yahoo and Pfizer testified to present their case in addressing these concerns.
As we saw it, there are two different, but related, issues at play here, including:
1.) How drug companies can advertise on the internet:
Due to the nature of the medium (i.e., small website banners and sponsored search links) companies such as Google, Yahoo and various pharmaceutical companies are urging the FDA to provide a direction on how to appropriately inform consumers of the drug’s health risks. Google and the pharmaceutical industry have provide suggestions that include links back to informative web properties; both the WSJ Health Blog and NPR’s Health Blog delve deeper into this story.
2.) What role pharma companies will play in social media regarding how drug information is discussed:
The big issue at hand is how pharma companies must disclose health risks while remaining conversational on social media (i.e., Twitter, Facebook and blogs). One issue that resonated was control on user edited sites like Wikipedia; these sites provide less control for brands to manage what the users add or delete from drug information. As such, pharmaceutical reps are arguing that they should be held accountable for only information under their direct control, such as company websites. More information on this story can be found on NextGov. Some interesting thinking on addressing both of these concerns by Pharma Marketing News and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America, as reported by redOrbit: “Online pharmaceutical-marketing expert John Mack of Pharma Marketing News, recommended that the FDA take the unprecedented step of mandating that drug manufacturers put “tags” on their Twitter posts in order to monitor and potentially censor discussions about specific products. A similar suggestion was made earlier in the week by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America representative Jeffrey Francer, in which he encouraged the FDA to require a standard safety logo for drug-related Web content that would link consumers to an official FDA-approved website with information about the medication in question.”
As marketers, for any campaign or program, clearly we need to be mindful in how we create online ad campaigns and how we develop social media strategy to ensure proper discloser of drug health risks. We are strong proponents in the value of social media in providing access to health related information and connecting with others of similar conditions. In fact, social media is the perfect tool to being an informed patient, which, we believe, can help in better treatments and care. However, social media is no substitute to consulting with our doctors about what is the best course of treatment for whatever ails us.
We’ll continue to monitor this news and share updates and thinking along the way.