Managing the Social Media Risks of Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing

In this day and age, a digital presence is a must for pharmaceutical companies who want to communicate the benefits of their new products. But digital marketing also introduces new levels of risk to the pharma industry. Just ask drug maker Duchesnay, which got in hot water with the Food and Drug Administration when celebrity Kim Kardashian promoted the company’s morning sickness drug via social media.

Duchesnay paid Kardashian to endorse the company’s drug, Diclegis, according to AdAge. In return, Kardashian has posted about the drug on her Instagram feed, which boasts more than 42 million followers. Most companies would openly welcome such exposure. But the FDA said that Kardashian’s posts were misleading because they did not include any information about the risks associated with the Duchesnay drug. The FDA sent a warning letter to Duchesnay. Warning letters formally put a company on notice that it has sparked concern from the regulator and those concerns must be addressed. If a company does not respond, the FDA can impose stiffer penalties, which can include fines or recalls.

Duchesnay and Kardashian have taken steps to ease the FDA’s concerns. Kardashian has returned to social media to post corrective information about the Duchesnay drug. On her Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, Kardashian outlined the health risks associated with Diclegis, according to Bloomberg. She noted that the drug has not been studied in women experiencing extreme, persistent vomiting, while also noting warnings against using the drug while taking other medications or alcohol. But it’s not clear how well that message was received. She sent the messages out the same night as the MTV Video Music Awards, and those posts quickly overtook her social media stream.

Digital marketing is a great way to inform consumers about new products. But pharmaceuticals are highly regulated and tightly monitored by the FDA. Pharma companies must take care to ensure that their digital marketing campaigns comply with the FDA, particularly when those products have the paid endorsement of a celebrity who may not be familiar with pharma marketing requirements.

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