In April 2008, The Food and Drug Administration asked Pfizer to stop running an in-stream video ad for Viagra because it failed to include drug risk information. Video ad network Tremor Media hopes a new ad offering will ensure the risk information Pfizer and other drug marketers are obliged to feature alongside video ads is always there.
Although in-stream video advertising is becoming a common way for advertisers to extend the reach of their TV advertising, many pharmaceutical advertisers — bound by FDA regulations demanding they balance drug benefits with risk information — have yet to use pre- or post-roll video ads.
The main concern for all pharmaceutical advertisers revolves around fair balance. The FDA requires that drug advertisers balance positive information about their products with the negative in their ads, and has cracked down this year by warning several that their text-based search ads failed to include the appropriate risk information.
Though longer in-stream video ads allow for pharma advertisers to include drug risk information in their ads, shorter lengths of 15-seconds or less tend to perform best. According to recent data from EyeWonder, the average length of time viewers watched pharmaceutical video ads was 8.6 seconds, compared to around 11 seconds for all types of advertisers. That leaves little time for advertisers to include the required language.
When pharma advertisers have kept video ads short, some have included the risk information — or a link to risk information — in an accompanying display ad. Pfizer reportedly attempted to do just that, but when the FDA spotted its in-stream ad, there was no risk information included in the video, nor in any adjacent display ad, according to the warning letter sent to the firm’s CEO by the FDA. The agency told Pfizer to “immediately cease dissemination” of the Viagra ad, claiming the video “is misleading because it makes representations and suggestions about the use of Viagra for erectile dysfunction, but fails to disclose any risk information for the drug.”
Fair balance “is the big thing that’s stopping pharma companies from getting into both streaming video ads and viral video,” said Sven Larsen, chief marketing officer of Zemoga, an interactive agency that works with healthcare advertisers.
According to Tremor, its Rx In-Stream offering “guarantees” that in-stream videos ads are displayed at the same time as banners including risk information. “The system will never play the pre-roll until the companion banner is loaded,” said Tremor VP Marketing Shane Steele.
ValueClick’s pharma and healthcare-focused AdRx Media network also offers pre-roll video advertising with banners, and guarantees to the advertiser that in-stream video spots and companion banners will serve together, according to ValueClick Vertical Sales Director Denise Zaraya.
“There still isn’t much demand on the pharmaceutical side [for in-stream video advertising] due to the legal/fair balance issues,” Zaraya told ClickZ News. “Most of the video demand is from over-the-counter and CPG advertisers — where the companion ad question isn’t as important.”
The banner ad assurance “demonstrates intent in a way that’s very defensible,” said Larsen, suggesting that pharma advertisers would be able to defend their intent to provide consumers fair balance if using a system such as the Tremor platform.
Companion banner ad guarantees may not be enough to convince some pharma advertisers, though. For instance, it isn’t clear whether risk information placed in a separate ad unit would satisfy the FDA’s fair balance requirements. Until the agency settles on concrete guidelines for online ads and social media communications — expected sometime next year — many advertisers will stick with what they know rather than take even seemingly minor risks.
“They’re really erring on the side of caution,” said BryantBrown Communications Partner Bob Brown, in regards to pharma advertisers.
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