Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I was in DC on Nov 12 to present at an FDA public hearing on the "Promotion of FDA-Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools". Many companies and interested parties presented, and I represented Yahoo!

My main message was that the Internet is a very different medium from traditional broadcast television and print, and the guidelines for pharmaceutical advertising should reflect these differences. For example, paid search placements that show up on Yahoo's search results pages each contain a very limited number of text characters. There's no way to including important safety information (ISI) in a space that tight. Unlike traditional media, People understand that when you search for something online, you need to click through on a paid search listing to get more information. But because of the existing FDA guidelines, drug makers don't believe that they can list their brand and the "indication" (i.e. for what condition the drug is taken for) in the paid search listing on the search results page without the ISI being present. So what they do instead is to run a generic placement that doesn't mention the brand. This results in less transparency for the consumer because people don't know where they are going when they click on a generic site link (i.e. people see "getmoresleep.com" instead of "ambien.com"). Yahoo's recommendation is that the brand and indication can be listed in a search placement, but the complete ISI needs to be available one click away.

You can see more examples of how pharma ad guidelines should change by watching my complete remarks here. Just click on "Day 1 of 2", then click on "Afternoon Session - Part 1". Then scroll to 4 hours and 43 minutes into the stream to see my presentation, which runs 15 minutes.

The public hearing and Yahoo's participation in it was widely covered in the press, although the quality of the coverage was certainly mixed. Probably the most insightful article was published in MediaPost, which is an online advertising industry trade publication. There was also coverage in the print version of the Wall Street Journal, a wire story in dozens of AP newspapers, and a report in the LA Times. As is typical, the online coverage was far more voluminous. A friend even heard a mention of Yahoo's participation in the hearing on NPR. Perhaps the most bizzare media outlet to cover the hearing was a website called Visit Bulgaria. Hard to explain that one.

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