Online ad compliance isn't easy, pharma says

Navigating the online world without a map--that's what drugmakers say they're doing, now that the FDA has cracked down on internet advertising. The agency sent 14 warning letters to a Who's Who of pharma, citing the drugmakers for leaving risk information out of their search-engine ads--which are limited to a measly 95 characters. Scrambling to comply, the drugmakers complain that the agency has offered no positive guidance for online marketing, just a series of "don'ts." And they worry that their ad hoc solutions carry more drawbacks than advantages.

In a New York Times story, drugmakers say the FDA has failed to recognize the fundamental differences between online ads and more traditional approaches, such as print and television. How can they include a laundry list of possible side effects in a 95-character ad, for instance?

But patient advocates say the FDA crackdown on online ads is overdue. "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?" said Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog, told the NYT. The FDA finally realizes, he said, "that digital marketing needs to encompass tougher standards than are currently being put into use by the drug companies."

Surely both sides can agree, however, that the FDA needs to come up with clear guidelines for online marketing. What about social media, for instance? As you know, pharma marketing types have been calling on the agency to address new promotional forms such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as more familiar stuff like search-engine and YouTube ads. Maybe it's time the agency stepped up to the task.

- read the NYT piece