Pharmaceutical Companies Concerned About FDA’s Rules for Google Internet Search Ads
Drug industry executives have raised concerns that FDA regulations on Internet search advertisements are unclear and that complying with the rules could make the ads confusing or misleading, the New York Times reports. Search advertisements are brief text ads that appear alongside search results on search engines such as Google (Clifford, New York Times, 4/17).
In letters sent recently to 14 major pharmaceutical companies, FDA warned that such ads could mislead patients because they do not include information about health risks related to the drugs. The letters also stated that the companies should remove any ads that include no mention of related health risks and respond to the agency letters by the second week of April (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 4/6). According to the Times, the letters were sent to nearly every major pharmaceutical company, including Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Pfizer.
Drugmakers previously believed they were in compliance with Internet search ad regulations as long as the companies provided complete risk information within one click of the ad, according to Arnie Friede, counsel for McDermott, Will & Emery. The letters were clear that such ads were not in compliance. As a result, the 14 companies began revising the search ads as soon as they received the letters, according to the Times.
However, officials from the companies have said it is impossible for them to include all required information in the 95 characters that Google allows for such ads. Furthermore, representatives from the companies have said that they are concerned that attempting to fit such risk information into the ads has led to the ads becoming even more confusing than before. The Times reports that officials from the companies are concerned that FDA will force them to adhere to similar standards established for magazines and television instead of developing a new set of standards that reflect the evolution of Internet advertising.
John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, said, "While a technical violation, this is the kind of thing, especially in the new media environment we're in, that deserves a good conversation and recognition of the media reality that we're operating in," adding, "No company wants a warning letter from the FDA, so they're going to comply, but it will mean there won't be as effective search advertising; it'll be harder to do in an effective way."
Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, said that FDA under the Obama administration now is realizing "that digital marketing needs to encompass tougher standards than are currently being put into use by the drug companies," adding, "Why should a drug company be able to advertise one of its products in the best possible light in 25 or 40 or 150 characters when you can't disclose all the side effects in that space?" (New York Times, 4/17).