Google’s New Ad Formats for Pharma

Google is testing new search ad formats for the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve been bursting with this knowledge for months, and I’m very excited to finally be able to publicly discuss it.

Why Is This Important News?

I’m personally excited because most of my clients are pharma companies. If you don’t work in this industry, you might be asking: why is this relevant to me?

Although you may not do business in the healthcare industry, the vast majority of Americans use search engines to find health information for themselves and their families, and therefore all of us have a vested interest in the availability and presentation of that information. When we’re searching as consumers for information on managing our health conditions and potential treatments, we want to see balanced, relevant information, right? And as marketers, we should always try to stay abreast of what is happening in other industries, to understand how those same strategies may be applied in the future to other industries.

How Did This Come About?

A couple months back, the agency where I work attended a Google-hosted digital health conference for a small group of agency and advertiser partners. There, Google’s team presented the idea of a new sponsored search ad format that would be unique to the pharma industry. Due to the proprietary nature of what was presented, attendees were not able to disclose this fact publicly until Google had brought it forth — which is exactly what happened at the Federal Drug Administration’s hearings on Internet promotions last week. (For ClickZ’s news coverage of the hearings, go here.)

With a dramatic drop in industry search ad spending after the FDA cracked down on the pharma industry’s usage of sponsored links, Google has a strong incentive to cater its ad units to the needs of this particular industry. (For background on this topic, I wrote a column two months ago about the challenges faced by the pharma industry as it relates to both paid and organic search.)

For some time now, Google has been working with the FDA to come up with potential new ad formats for pharma marketers. It first met with the FDA group responsible for setting advertising standards and guidelines for the industry, the Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC) in May 2009 to discuss the key issues and come up with some potential solutions. Google solicited informal feedback on potential new ad formats from DDMAC, but it was made clear that the FDA could not provide formal comments or approval on Google’s mock-ups. Rather, DDMAC would require to see this ad format in context — meaning used by an actual pharmaceutical product/brand.

Google has therefore initiated a beta program to begin working with pharma companies and their agencies to create and submit these new formats to DDMAC for pre-clearance.

What Will These Ads Look Like?

Nothing is set in stone as of yet, in terms of what will be widely employed by pharma companies, but Google’s proposed formats are gaining mainly positive feedback from industry pundits. At least one brand went live with one of the proposed units.

Google has come up with a simple, unique ad presentation that will enable a fair presentation of both benefit and risk information.

It created a couple versions that cater to the unique needs of various consumer drugs. We’ve included some examples below for illustrative purposes. The first is a product claim ad, which is the format that most drugs will be able to use unless they have a severe consumer warning attached to them (which is called a “boxed” warning). The second is a boxed warning ad, which is to be used by those with a severe consumer warning.

Proposed Product Claim Ad:

Proposed Boxed Warning Ad:

Notes on these ads:

  • “Warning” in product claim ad is static/fixed and unmovable. Other 62 characters are advertiser-defined.
  • “More info” link in both ads should link to HTML page with safety information and prescribing information. (It cannot link to a PDF.)
  • Clicks on the hyperlinked ad headline will lead to advertiser designated landing page.

When Will I Start Seeing These Ads?

At least one advertiser, Yaz, a birth control drug with a boxed warning from AstraZeneca, has launched these new formats. That means, presumably, that it received DDMAC clearance on these ads before launch, and likely put these through their internal regulatory process as well. Some of our clients are participating in the pilot and I know several other large pharma companies are in the final stages of approvals.

That means you will likely start to see more of these ads over the coming months, with likely all pharma advertisers adopting this new approach (if it proves viable) within the next year.

Can I Participate in the Beta Program?

If you’re a pharma brand marketer or agency that works with pharma clients, it’s best to contact your Google rep to inquire about participation.

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