The Swiss law strongly regulates the advertising of pharmaceutical products and healthcare marketing in general. The Therapeutic Products Act (TPA) as well as the "Advertising regulation for the healthcare sector" (Arzneimittel-Werbeverordnung, AWV) form the legal basis for those regulations.
If you want to advertise for a pharmaceutical product by placing an ad on the Google search engine, you will have to be compliant with the Google Ads Guidelines. Since these guidelines are not always consistent with the Swiss Law, it can be challenging to do online-marketing for pharmaceutical products. In order to make sure your healthcare marketing works out for the best, we outlined the most important aspects of advertising with Google Ads.
Google Ads Requirements for Healthcare Marketing in Switzerland
Generally speaking, Google Ads does not allow any advertising for pharmaceutical products in Switzerland: This applies to both products obtainable without a prescription (OTC drugs) and those available only on prescription, as well as the vast majority of food supplements. We have summarized the most important points of the Google Ads Guidelines in the three following categories.
1) Guidelines for Online Pharmacies
Google Ads advertising restrictions can turn out to be a big issue for online pharmacies; however, there are ways to advertise certain products on Google Ads, despite its strict guidelines. The following example for "contraceptives" shows that a policy-compliant solution is to advertise an alternative product: The advertising of hormonal contraceptives (e.g. birth control pills) is prohibited by Google Ads, since it is a prescription drug. However, you can advertise contraceptives that do not contain hormones, as shown in the picture below. In doing so, you will bring additional visitors to your online store and, there, in your own online shop you are able to display hormonal contraceptives.
2) Guidelines for Ad Texts
Google Ads does not allow the use of many pharmaceutical product names, even if those names are used in relation to a treatment or a cure. Google Ads provides an extensive (but not complete) list of prescription drugs that are forbidden. This means that all terms from that list cannot be used in the ad text, the landing page, or in the keyword list.
It is also important that costumers are not given a promise through these ads that cannot be kept, such as: "With our new super-product, we guarantee you 5 kg less on your hips!". If you still want to place this kind of advertisement, make sure to publish a clearly visible disclaimer.
3) Remarketing Ban
Whenever a user searches for pharmaceutical products online, Google classifies this search as sensitive user information, as this search might be related to an illness or treatment of the user, and Google aims to protect its users’ information. Hence, Google forbids any remarketing campaign in the healthcare marketing sector. This rule also applies to food supplements.
Example: Advertising Botox Treatments
Advertising Botox treatments is very challenging. This is also an interesting case which is strongly affected by Google Ads and the Swiss Law. Let’s start with the guidelines:
The Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products (Swissmedic) says:
- The use of the term "Botox" (or "Botulinum Toxin") in advertising texts (title, subtitle, URL) is prohibited.
- Botox treatments are only permitted on a few, specific parts of the body (e.g. frown lines). Advertising for other body parts is considered "off-label use" and is punishable by law.
- Before-and-after pictures as well as price promotions are forbidden.
Google Ads regulations say:
- The term "Botox" must not appear on the landing page.
- The term cannot be used as a keyword, in the ad text or in the URL.
- The ad text must not contain a success guarantee.
If, despite all of this, you would like to place an ad for Botox treatment, we can give you the following recommendation:
Under no circumstances should you use the term "Botox" in the ad texts, since both Swissmedic and Google forbid it. Furthermore, it should be noted that the same term cannot appear on the landing page, otherwise Google Ads will reject the ad. If your page does contain the word "Botox", we advise you to use another landing page for the ad, for example a higher-level category page that does not contain the term, or even the homepage. Also, in order to avoid the risk of an "off-label use", you should not mention a specific part of the body in the ad texts, but rather try to write generic ads (e.g. "wrinkles reduction" or "visual rejuvenation"). Last but not least, bear in mind that your ad does not provide a guarantee of success (e.g. "Thanks to our treatment, you will look 10 years younger!")
As you have seen, it can be challenging to advertise pharmaceutical products but if you take all the above points into account, it is indeed feasible to successfully conduct online marketing campaigns.
If you have any further questions or need inputs for your healthcare marketing, please leave a comment or contact me by email.