Paid Social Campaigns are Important to Corporate Pharma Success But Face New Scrutiny in an Election Year

March 6th, 2024

By Joe Doyle, EVP, Kimberly Brock, EVP, Meredith Modzelewski, SVP, Vi Huynh, VP

Paid social campaigns are important to corporate pharma success but face new scrutiny in an election year.

In a recent article in Endpoints, it was revealed that more than 15 pharma ads have been removed over the past few months because they did not follow Meta advertising standards. The Washington Post is also reporting that Meta has stopped proactively recommending “political content,” which has a broad definition that includes social issues, elections, and laws – seemingly as a blanket policy to avoid criticism for misinformation and to avoid the issues of past elections.

Why are pharma ads getting flagged?

Most pharmaceutical companies use paid social media to help advance awareness of important social topics that are tied to their corporate mission. Meta has put requirements on several categories of social advertising content (see list at right) and it appears that most of the flagged posts on Meta involve both health and one of the other social issue topics from the list. And while pharmaceutical companies are not mentioned by Meta as the types of advertisers who regularly present this content and get flagged, we are seeing increased scrutiny amongst drug manufacturers communicating these topics.

What are the Meta requirements?

According to the Meta Help Center, advertisers interested in placing ads that include content regarding social issues are required to go through an authorization process and require specific disclaimer verbiage. Whereas in the past, a pharmaceutical company’s content might be approved with the “Sponsored” content disclaimer (like the ViiV Healthcare example on right), this may no longer be enough to satisfy the Meta requirements this year, as you can see by the violation.

What healthcare communications groups can do to protect themselves:

There are five steps your brand can take to ensure your important social initiative ads meet requirements and are seen by your intended audiences this year:

  1. Ensure your brand is authorized. Thereis a checklist to follow, and your social media manager will be able to submit your brand to ensure compliance before your next round of DEI or social awareness efforts.
  2. Once authorized, use both “Sponsored” and “Paid for by” disclaimers.In the example on the right (pulled from the Meta Ad Platform), we can see Gilead Sciences created a compliant ad sharing their work in vulnerable HIV communities. The ad ran for two months using both disclaimers.
  3. Avoid contentious language that may be polarizing. It is essential to prioritize sensitivity and inclusivity in messaging, but rather than solely focusing on health disparity terms, ensure that ads emphasize actionable solutions offered by your brand such as access to affordable medications, patient assistance programs or community health initiatives that may potentially lead to improved health outcomes for marginalized communities. Framing messages around concrete actions and support mechanisms will demonstrate your brand’s commitment to addressing health inequities without inadvertently using language that may be perceived as polarizing or controversial.
  4. Engage diverse stakeholders such as patient advocacy groups, HCPs, and community organizations (like Black Health Matters with Sanofi example to the right) to ensure that your brand’s campaigns positively resonate and align with the needs and priorities of marginalized communities. By using a collaborative approach, this helps to avoid using language that may be deemed contentious, while also fostering trust, credibility and creating more effective and inclusive marketing strategies that contribute to advancing health equity for all.
  5. Plan for appeals in your schedule. Work in extra time to account for resubmission just in case the language trips the AI ad content readers. For posts that are time-bound, e.g. a post about health equity on World Prostate Cancer Day, if the ad is flagged you would end up missing the date and an approved repost will not make sense a week later. If you have a Meta rep, we recommend sharing content with them in advance of the publish date to get their opinion.

Golin Health continues to monitor the paid social space for any implications the future will bring. We are driven to help content remain effective and compliant, bringing new awareness to the valuable, life-changing experiences you create for people from all walks of life.