Healthcare Reform: Who's Crippling Who?

By David Gould, President

Advertising Age recently ran an interesting article on the government’s perceived beat-down of the marketing industry (“Marketing Takes a Beating in Beltway”). The article surmises that the Obama Administration’s need to fund healthcare reform and other programs in a down economy makes the marketing industry an “easy target ripe for regulation and shakedown to fund the federal piggy bank.”

At Resolution Media, we’ve seen the direct impact of increased regulation while working with our pharmaceutical clients. Assuming the article is correct about the administration’s desire to fund healthcare reform, it’s painfully ironic how the FDA’s rampant regulations have created havoc in the pharmaceutical paid search space.

Until recently, the industry subscribed to the “one click rule”. Under this mantra, drug companies would advertise pharmaceuticals by brand in paid search text ads as long as clicking on the ad landed the consumer on a page that thoroughly described the drug’s indications, side effects and all other information the FDA requires be present in pharmaceutical advertising. You know what I’m talking about, the full page of fine print accompanying any magazine ad for pharmaceuticals or the speed reading narrator on TV ads who barrels through side effects so fast that no one pays attention.

Lacking any written guidelines on digital advertising, the FDA was fine with this self imposed industry rule until April. At that point, some bureaucrat decided that paid text ads needed to have all required information resident in the sponsored search ad despite the obvious character limitations on text ads. In essence, pharmaceutical companies were severely crippled in their efforts to advertise their products through paid search.

How ironic … as the administration works toward healthcare reform, it simultaneously strangles the flow of information to consumers regarding important healthcare issues. Many consumers turn to the internet to search for relevant medical information. By preventing pharmaceutical companies from advertising their products and in the process creating links to valuable information on many different disease states, the FDA is effectively limiting the free flow of valuable information and making the quest for better healthcare more difficult.

No doubt the FDA plays a crucial role in helping consumers avoid the snake oil salesman peddling the cure-all tonic, but does requiring all detailed information be present in a text ad versus being one click away do anybody any good? I have yet to hear a compelling argument as to how it does.


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