Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pharma, Facebook, and Inappropriate Ads

The following tweet from Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) was posted to the "News Direct from Drug Industry" forum on Pharma Marketing Network:
Boehringer: Thank you. RT @Pharmafocus: Digital Pharma: Boehringer gets social with Facebook
This is a typical corporate Facebook page that includes general information about the company -- including information about the company's Jubilee (125th) celebration. It has a Wall with comments, but you cannot post comments to it -- it seems only invited guests can do that.

CORRECTION: Anyone can post comments as long as they first click on "Like This" on the page. Still, most pharma companies don't allow comments. Even when they do -- as in BI's case here -- they have the ability to delete comments they don't link. That's fine.

Let's get over the fact that pharma companies don't want to include comments from visitors -- at least not the negative comments or comments they don't like. I understand all the reasons for this. But what I don't understand is why a pharmaceutical company would stand for having a site where they appear to have no control over the ads that appear on the page. Take a look, for example, at the top ad on BI's Facebook page (see screen shot below; click on image for a larger view):

The image of a woman (I assume) "eating a banana" is not something I would like to see on my official FB page if I were a pharmaceutical company.

It's interesting that pharma companies are so reluctant to have negative comments placed on their Facebook pages, but obviously turn a blind eye to inappropriate ads being served up on the same page! Does BI think having a presence on FB is so critical that it can overlook the fact that it's image is being tarnished by suggestive advertising?

Visitors to BI's Facebook page may be well aware that BI has no control over the ads displayed on the site. But, still, it's a bit embarrassing, don't you think?

UPDATE (Sept 18, 2010): Upon revisiting the BI FB page, I no longer see ANY ads in the right-hand column (see screen shot below). There is only a FB "house ad" and a link to "More ads," which will show you the ads by themselves and not in conjunction with BI content. It appears that BI was able to suppress the ads. Not sure how they do that, but it is a trick I'd like to learn more about. 

UPDATE (Sept 22, 2010): John Pugh (Director of Corporate Communication/External Communications, Boehringer Ingelheim) posted this comment on my FB page: Hi John. I just answered you comment on our Facebook page. Here's what I said: "Facebook does allow ads to be turned off in the right rail for any pharma page that requests it. So, after your blog post, we requested it. Best, John"


  1. John---I want to correct something that is wrong in your post. Anyone can comment on their wall. You first have to "like" the page and then you can comment. I was able to comment on a photo:!/photo.php?pid=399767&id=147958921897855&ref=fbx_album

  2. Jay,

    Thanks for the correction.

  3. Good call, John, just one more reason why Facebook is any iffy-at-best social media channel for pharma/biotech.

  4. Anonymous11:31 AM

    Yeah I was all ready to go and congratulate BI on their 125 history and all they have accomplished in that time but now that I see there is a picture of a woman eating a banana on that page I want absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with them. Disgusting! Of all the crazy, revolting things on the internet, I still never thought things would get so bad that I would see something so low, so vile, as a picture of a woman eating a banana.

  5. Anonymous,

    It's not the ad, it's the concept of lack of control over the ads served. It's not for me to say what's appropriate or not for BI, but they may like to have some say in the matter, IMHO.

  6. Don't agree here. Worrying about potentially offensive ads is something for all types of companies. The pharma companies are extra concerned with adverse events, med-reg violations, etc. There is no double standard for relaxing on the former and being careful about the latter.

  7. The thing about those ads are.. they are customized to YOU. So if someone were to be into race cars, ads for used exotic cars would appear on the right..

    Soooo.. anyone see those vitamin miracle cure ads on Facebook yet?

  8. John,

    I get women with bananas in their mouths...figures

  9. Anonymous10:45 AM

    I also do not agree with this post. The ads that you see on the right hand side are supposed to be related to the facebook user's information...not the current page that they are on. So if a user is on BI's page, the ads that appear are intended for them and not related to BI in any way.

  10. Again, I understand that the ads are NOT related to BI in any way. The fact remains, however, that ads are served there over which BI has no control. I guess that means they can breath easy as far as gov't regulators are concerned. Would BI allow this for their own web sites.

    The situation is similar to Google sidewiki, where anyone can attached comments to web pages. At least, in that situation, the owner of the website can get top billing and notify users that what appears in the sidewiki area of the site is not under their control.

    I guess we just can assume that everyone using FB knows how these ads are chosen and that BI has no control over them.

  11. HI John,

    I have mixed feelings about some of the themes that bubbling under the surface of this post.

    It is the move towards a less controlling attitude to broad public communication that is exciting and the real opportunity for pharma.

    Engagement from the public should be welcomed and keeping the restrictions to a minimum and commenting policy as open as is possible for a regulated industry is key to success in the social environment.

    With regard to ads, if they can be suppressed then I will be compelled to look into the option. However accepting that we cannot always control the context of our content on 3rd party sites is part of learning curve as we enter the 3.0 age and the subsequent ownership and copywrite issues that will fall out of it

  12. Anonymous10:10 PM


    First off, I'd like to mention that I do not really find the advert in the example to be "embarrassing" for anyone but Facebook, who seems to attract poor quality advertising.

    I would also have to agree with the post above, isn't the big idea that big pharma needs to learn to deal with the inevitable loss of control of the conversation in a web 2.0 context? Blog posts such as these only serve to detract from the argument that pharma needs to concentrate more on the purpose of social media initiatives rather than its "packaging".

    Should pharma companies really be wasting resources making sure their Facebook walls look clean as opposed to creating value? Should we really be in a situation where pharma companies have the privilege of turning off advertising (the business model that allows platforms such as Facebook to be free) in the first place?

    The slow-pace at which pharma is integrating social media into their value offering is frustrating at best, but pointing out details such as these "embarrassing" ads will only encourage the ridiculously risk averse stance and slow down progress.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...