WHEN the Food and Drug Administration sent letters to 14 major pharmaceutical companies late last month, the warning was strong. The companies’ search advertisements — the short text ads that run beside Google results — had to start including risk information about each drug or else be rewritten or removed.
Just how the companies were supposed to comply was not so clear. In the 95 characters that Google allowed for search ads, there was no way to include all the required information, the companies argued.
Now, as the companies change their search ads to comply with the letters, industry executives say the solution is worse than the problem: their ads are even more confusing and misleading now, they say. And they worry that regulators will enforce standards that were created for magazines and television, rather than making new rules that acknowledge how Internet ads have evolved.
The letters were sent to almost all of the major pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Merck and Eli Lilly. The letters said ads for widely prescribed drugs, including Celebrex, Propecia and Yaz, did not include the paragraphs of precautions the agency required.
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