Research Outline

Google Ads: Pharmaceuticals


To obtain a highly detailed set of information concerning Google's pharmaceutical policies both past and present. This information will be used to compose a long form article to present to a prospective client highlighting expertise in pharmaceutical paid search background and including specific and plausible strategies learned from currently successful advertisers on the platform for pharmaceutical advertising.

Early Findings

Changes to Advertising Policies

  • In September 2019, Google banned the advertisement of unproven medical treatments. Google describes these as treatments that "lack biomedical or scientific basis" and would include stem cell therapies and gene therapy. Also included in the banned advertisements are unapproved substances such as "ephedra, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) used for weight control and herbal and dietary supplements with active pharmaceutical or dangerous ingredients."
  • In 2010, Google made changes to their (then) Adwords program to allow only VIPPS and CIPA certified pharmacies to advertise on the network. This policy change also made it so that advertisers could target ads only in the country in which they are accredited.
  • On July 20, 2015, Google removed their "black box" pharmaceutical ad formats from pharmaceutical ads that included health risk disclaimers. They then required all ads to go through the standard text format, which called into question whether or not these ads would then be FDA approved.

Google's Current Ad Policies for Pharmaceutical Advertisements

  • Google maintains and links to a list of country-specific regulations for pharmaceutical and medical advertising. They expect and require that their advertisers abide by all laws for any country they advertise in. Google makes it clear that some healthcare-related content can't be advertised at all, while others must be certified with Google and only target ads in certain countries.
  • Google allows pharmaceutical manufacturers to advertise in select countries only. Prescription drugs may be promoted for Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.
  • "Pharmaceutical manufacturers may promote over-the-counter medicines in the following countries only: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States."
  • "Bulk drug manufacturers, medical professional suppliers, and antibody/peptide/compound suppliers for commercial labs may advertise in the following countries only: Canada, United States"
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers must be certified by Google to advertise. The application process can be found here.
  • Including "drug or medical device terminology in your ad text or on the website where the ads direct traffic will immediately restrict your ads. This applies to all ad formats — search ads, display ads, and video ads among others."

Violation of Google's Advertising Policies

  • Google enforces their polices along with governmental laws and regulations and responds to violations based on the severity of the violation.
  • Violating ads may simply be disabled or disallowed to run until they are corrected. Several violations or a severe violation of the policies will lead to an account being suspended. Remarketing lists can be disabled or restricted due to policy violations.
  • Google also conducts compliance reviews on occasion. Failure to supply the appropriate information can result in the revoking of advertisements.

Legal Requirements

  • Google expects that advertisements will comply with any legal laws that are in place in the locales the advertisements target.
  • The company clearly states that they err on the side of caution concerning legality because they do not want to allow legally questionable material on their platform.
  • "Advertisers must comply with applicable sanctions and export regulations, which includes sanctions administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), and agree to not cause Google to violate these regulations." This includes not using ads for or on behalf of restricted entities or individuals, nor for those entities or individuals located in sanctioned countries or regions.
  • Ad campaigns cannot geographically target embargoed countries or territories.
  • Specific example of a non-allowed advertisement: "Canadian online pharmacy ads: Google doesn't allow Canadian online pharmacy ads to target customers in the United States."

Pharmaceutical Digital Ad Spend

  • In 2019, US healthcare and pharma advertisers will spend $3.62 billion on digital ads. The number climbs to $4.23 billion in 2020 but still remains small due to compliance laws.