Pharmaceutical Advertising with AdWords

One of the more tricky types of AdWords accounts I have worked with is Pharmaceutical advertising, specifically Pharmaceutical Manufacturing accounts.  I quickly learned that marketing for the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing industry presents many challenges because Google, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and American Medical Association (AMA) have many strict policies, rules and regulations that must be followed when designing a Pharmaceutical Advertising Campaign.

A Little History

Up until the mid-1980’s Pharmaceutical Manufacturers shared product information with Doctors and Pharmacists who would pass along the information to their clients including the risks associated with taking a certain prescription drug. These days’ consumers are more often informed about prescription drugs through direct-to-consumer advertising.  For this reason, the FDA has designed strict rules to protect consumers from false claims, side effects and harmful interactions with other drugs.

Policies, Rules, and Regulations, oh my!

Google has many policies around Pharmaceutical advertising.  There are countries that can not be targeted, certain products that cannot be marketed, keyword rules, and more.  Remarketing is not an option either because this is a health related marketing effort and they want to protect people’s privacy.  It’s also important to know that Google has a certification process that all Pharmaceutical Manufacturers need to go through before they can advertise.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has rules that must be closely followed.  The FDA makes it clear that in no way can the ads be misleading or contain false statements and the benefits and risks need to be shared in a fair and balanced fashion.  Many prescription drugs that carry serious risks must carry a link in the ad to a ‘boxed warning’ disclosure on the product website.  The word ‘new’ cannot be used in ads for a product that is more than a few months old.  More on three types of FDA regulated ads below.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has rules around the grammatical aspects of the ad copy.  Major words must be capitalized and articles not capitalized (such as a, an, the) unless they are the first or last word in a title or subtitle.  Here is an example of some AMA ad copy rules.

“Capitalize the first letter of each major word in titles and subtitles. Do not capitalize articles (a, an, the), prepositions of 3 or fewer letters (of, for, in), coordinating conjunctions (and, or, for, nor, but), or the to infinitives. However, capitalize a coordinating conjunction, an article, or a preposition of 3 or fewer letters when it is the first or last word in a title or subtitle. Do capitalize 2-letter verbs (go, do, am, is, be).  Do not capitalize the second part of a hyphenated compound if either part is a hyphenated prefix or suffix (Self-referral, Anti-inflammatory, Intra-abdominal) or if both parts together constitute a single word (Long-term, Follow-up, Part-time). However, in the case of a temporary compound, in which each part of the hyphenated term carries equal weight, capitalize both words (Cost-Benefit Analysis, Low-Level Activity)..”

Kinda makes your head spin right?

The FDA’s Three Regulated Ad Types

Depending on the product and the purpose of the marketing campaign there are three types of ads that a Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s marketing team can design to be utilized through AdWords.  

Product Claim Ad

Product Claim ads name the drug, the condition it treats and covers the benefits and most significant risks associated with the prescription drug.   The drug’s brand and generic names must be included as well as the wording ‘Official Site’  These ads are most often ads that will require a ‘boxed warning’ statement if the drug carries significant risks.  

Reminder Ad

These ads are working under the assumption that the audience is already familiar with the drug.  Therefore, reminder ads supply the name of the prescription drug (brand, generic and ‘Official Site’), but not the condition it treats.  These ads generally do not need to carry a ‘boxed warning’ statement because there is no claim on what the drug treats.  

Help-Seeking Ad

This type of ad describes a disease or condition but does not recommend or suggest any specific drugs.  Help-seeking ads are generally not considered to be drug ads.  However if they do suggest the use of a drug they must comply with FDA rules.

Because of the character limitations in text ads it can be a tricky task to include all the information required.

Medical/Legal Review

In my experience, there is always a Medical/Legal review process that must be completed with the Client’s team to confirm ads are compliant before launch.  We supply the Client with a spreadsheet containing the account structure, ad copy, keywords and all the extensions recommended.  This process can be lengthy if you are not aware of the rules and have to go back and forth with several review iterations.  

Summing it Up

Like I said, it is tricky.  The best place to start is through great strategy sessions with your client to understand their goals and objectives.  Understanding the product, if it is a ‘boxed warning’ drug for instance, is extremely important and will impact your ad copy.  Taking a look at what the competition is doing is also important.  The character limits on text ads are so limited that I often times see multiple advertisers with almost identical ads.  Looking at what others are doing can help you work towards generating unique ad copy.  

There are certifications to obtain, policies, rules, reviews, and more to consider. Understanding the timeline of events that needs to take place and following that closely makes the process much easier.

If you are a Pharmaceutical Manufacturing company looking for an expert Paid Search team to support your marketing efforts contact PML today!


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