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Should there be a language standard in Google ads for supplements? Drug marketers may adopt rules given the close scrutiny that the FDA is giving search-generated ads for pharmaceuticals. The Interactive Advertising Bureau is asking the feds to endorse the use of standard formats online for drugs.

Why? Because seemingly harmless statements are incurring the FDA’s wrath. Case in point: A search for the pain medication Fentora generated this sponsored message from its maker, Cephalon: “Learn about treating breakthrough pain in patients with cancer.”

Harmless, right? No, said the FDA. According to a MediaPost report, the FDA deemed “such ad copy was deficient because it implied that all cancer patients with breakthrough pain could use Fentora.” The agency also said that the “implication was misleading because the drug is only indicated for people who can already tolerate around-the-click opioid therapy.”

The FDA warned a host of the world’s largest drugmakers that they too were running misleading ads. Unsure of how to act, the companies cut back on search-generated ads, with volume falling by about half. Now, the IAB wants a set of clear rules so that the drugmakers can resume online advertising without getting into trouble.

Standards may also help marketers of nutritional supplements. While drugmakers have a higher standard for publishing warnings and limitations on their products (see any Cialis ad), makers and marketers of nutraceuticals operate at their peril in making claims for ingredients. And sponsored links on Google could be one place they find trouble.

For example, a search on antioxidant produced this language in a sponsored link:

Get Healthy w/Natural Antioxidants
One Year Money Back Guarantee!”

Similarly, a search on glucosamine chondritin produced this ad language:

Drink Joint Juice and Leap More.
The 30-Day Joint Health Challenge!

How would the FDA or FTC view these claims getting healthy or jumping higher if they were made for drugs? The supplement industry may want an answer before agencies go on the offensive.


Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.