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Google Shakes up Adwords – No More Special Treatment for Pharma Ads

Posted by | 11:28am on Thursday, July 9, 2015 | No Comments
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Google is making some big-ish changes to Adwords specifically affecting the pharmaceutical industry.  The first change will undo the process Google implemented (back on 2010) to accommodate Black Box drug ads which was incredibly manual (from a Google perspective) and not scalable.  The other change affects unbranded pharmaceutical ads which previously allowed advertisers to display an unbranded url which then clicked through to a branded landing page.  Considering how much emphasis Google puts on user experience, it is a bit surprising this was ever permitted.

The first change will go into effect July 20th, 2015.  Previously, Black Box drugs would be whitelisted by Google and company approved ad copy would be sent to a Google representative who would review the ad copy and manually implement the ad.  It’s obvious how this process isn’t very scalable from a Google perspective.  And since a small number of Google Reps were trained on Black Box ads, the process was usually relatively slow.  A Black Box drug ad would contain an extra line of copy with a 2nd link driving directly to the Prescribing Information (often as a PDF).

Current Black Box Adwords example:

Black Box Adwords Example

This example shows the extra line of copy available to Black Box drugs.  Post July 20th, the extra line of copy will not be supported by Google.  Since Black Box drugs are required to provide direct access to the Black Box warning, the new ads will have to look like:

New Adwords Blackbox format

Extensions such as call-outs and sitelinks can be added to make the ad larger and drive visitors to other areas of your website.  Even though there are no guarantees that Google will display the extensions, it makes sense to add them as the ad as shown above is pretty weak and will most likely not generate a great response rate.

Are there any positives from these Google updates?

2 main ones:

  1. Black Box Adwords ads will be able to be implemented more quickly
  2. The old format was not supported on mobile devices, so after July Black Box ads will be able to be displayed on mobile devices.

However, these new ads should be tested as the call to action for non-Black Box warning information is relegated to sitelinks which are not guaranteed to be displayed.  Plus if the drug name plus generic name does not fit in the headline of the ad, using Adwords may not be a viable advertising channel.

The 2nd change won’t go into effect until January 12, 2016.  This change impacts the common practice of using vanity urls to utilize unbranded copy to drive to branded pharmaceutical websites.  Pharma companies (contrary to existing Google policy) are allowed to use a vanity url as the display url which is a different domain than the branded landing page url.  Historically, this has been an exception made just for the pharma industry.   Currently an unbranded ad which makes no mention of a branded drug can promote awareness and information without having to use valuable character space for disclosure or the drug name such as the example below:

Current Unbranded Adwords Example

The vanity url must be “owned” by the pharma company.  However, since the landing page was a branded webpage no content was required on the vanity url.  With this change, Google has agreed to try to accommodate unbranded pharma ads using 3 new formats:

New Unbranded Adwords Formats

All these methods allow for a branded landing page without displaying a vanity url which could have led to a poor user experience.

In summary, we at Siren Interactive feel that the new Black Box ad format is much less powerful than the format Google previously supported.  However, unbranded ads have always been higher performing than branded, so we feel these new branded Black Box ads warrant testing as performance will most likely be brand and target audience specific.

As for the unbranded Adwords update, we strongly support these changes.   In our opinion (and from our experience) these new ads are less deceptive, will cause less confusion and ultimately lead to a stronger (more positive) user experience.


Siren Interactive
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