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Online Advertising for Pharmaceutical Marketing

Swiss health care marketers have a hard time in online marketing. There are not only national laws, but also strict platform-specific guidelines in pharmaceutical marketing. We therefore examined the three largest pay-per-click (PPC) platforms. Find out what Google Ads, Bing and Facebook require when you want to advertise medicine, food supplements or treatments.

Google Ads: Probably The Strictest Guidelines

Google Ads generally does not allow advertising for medicines in Switzerland: This applies to prescription and over-the-counter products (OTC) as well as to the majority of dietary supplements. This guideline leads to complications, especially for online pharmacies. As a workaround, it is therefore advisable to advertise only products that comply with the guidelines (e.g. teas or condoms) and thus direct visitors to the online store. In this way, users can take a detour to purchase dietary supplements or pharmaceuticals. However, care must be taken to ensure that no prescription or over-the-counter products are mentioned in the ad text or on the landing page. As described above, these may not be advertised at all.

Google Ads emphasizes the seriousness of the ad copy. Delusional or utopian promises of success are therefore taboo. Remarketing campaigns for pharmaceutical products are also prohibited. Google Ads considers the user data in this subject area as sensitive data, so that targeting e.g. previous website visitors is not permitted. 

However, one condition for mail-order pharmacies is that they must first be certified by Google Ads. Online pharmacies, however, will only receive the Google certification if they are registered with the relevant drug authorities in the countries where  their campaigns are targeted.

The following applies to devices and software used for medical purposes: A campaign may be approved by Google review if the advertising is directed exclusively at medical professionals (doctors, laboratory technicians). If you are unsure about this, please contact us. As a Google Premier Partner, we can discuss the use of your campaign in advance with our personal Google support.

Bing Ads: Easier pharmaceutical marketing

Microsoft’s advertising platform does not allow advertising for prescription drugs in Switzerland – unlike over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. However, advertisements may only contain information that corresponds to the most recent drug information approved by Swissmedic. Microsoft also maintains a list of products and treatments that are generally not approved. 

Specifics in Microsoft’s guidelines are found in the advertising of weight loss treatments: For example, they may only be aimed at adults, and the results must be realistic and achievable. Furthermore, advertising through Bing Ads must not pretend that a user will lose weight without changing their habits. Example: “With our program you will lose one pound per day!” You may also not advertise surrogacy and abortion in Switzerland. 

Facebook Ads: The Loosest Specifications

It is not possible to advertise prescription drugs on Facebook, otherwise the rules are quite clear: National laws apply. There are only a few special features in health marketing for advertisers on Facebook as criterias for OTC products, supplements and treatments. 

Prohibited are:

  • Images that focus on health conditions. Ads should not scare users scrolling through their feed, for example by showing close-ups of pimples.
  • Results-focused content. Ads should describe a product or service accurately and fairly, and avoid any claims of results that could mislead or confuse people. Example: “We guarantee you shiny white teeth after one month of use.”
  • Before and after pictures or videos
  • Advertising that leads to a negative self-perception: For example, the close-up of a six-pack can lead to a negative perception of one’s own body. 

There is also a list of forbidden content for advertising on FB but this list contains only a few guidelines regarding healthcare marketing: No illegal or unsafe products, those designed to enhance sexual enjoyment or sexual performance, and no body parts or fluids may be advertised.

The National Regulations in Switzerland

Of course, the national guidelines take precedence over all specifications of the advertising platforms. In Switzerland, the Federal Law on Medicinal Products and Medical Devices (HMG) and the Ordinance on the Advertising of Medicinal Products regulate those guidelines.

Our Conclusion

For pharmaceutical marketing, Facebook sometimes offers the loosest specifications. This is another argument why marketers in the pharmaceutical industry should rather focus on social media marketing when addressing the end customer: Health is a very personal topic. That is why platforms that reach users in their private environment are particularly suitable. 

Many pharmaceutical companies therefore rely on Facebook. No wonder, then, that big players such as Queisser Pharma (Doppelherz) or Nestlé Health Science have been able to increase their brand awareness and sales with campaigns on Facebook.

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