Meta ban on health-targeting ads will soon restrict clinical trial recruiters

A new ban on “Detailed Targeting” options for advertisers on Facebook and other Meta-owned social media platforms – which includes restricting marketing based on “health causes” – takes effect January 19, and may make it more challenging for health care and life sciences companies to use these platforms to identify individuals with a specific health condition. This could have broad and mixed impacts on social media users; but, it could also raise barriers to identifying patients for beneficial purposes, such as identifying clinical trial participants and those in need of access to telehealth services.

This comes after Meta set in place a new policy last year that banned the promotion of prescription drugs on its platforms without prior authorization. These new rules may make it difficult for health care and life sciences companies, including pharmaceutical manufacturers (among other recruiters), to use Meta-owned platforms to find patients for a variety of purposes, including clinical trial recruitment and dissemination of relevant disease education and drug product communications, potentially affecting companies’ ability to direct drug advertising to patients with a health condition.

"Detailed Targeting" policy

Facebook has become a common tool used to identify patients who might be eligible for a clinical trial. For example, under Facebook’s prior policies, a clinical trial recruiter for an oncology study could use Facebook to solicit individuals who interacted with content on a specific cancer disease state. The platform has also become a key tool for companies to disseminate relevant disease education and drug product communications to appropriate patient populations. Now, however, in one of Facebook’s first major moves since rebranding as “Meta,” the company will remove options for advertisers to target users based on how they reference so-called “sensitive topics,” including causes, organizations, or public figures. These changes will affect all of Meta’s platforms, including Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.

Providing examples of targeting categories that would not be allowed under its new policy that bans “Detailed Targeting” options for advertisers, Meta cited “Lung cancer awareness,” “World Diabetes Day,” and “LGBT culture.” However, Facebook’s announcement of its new policy also includes recommendations for advertisers trying to find the right audience, including broad targeting via gender and age. Facebook advertisers will still be able to employ location based-targeting, including finding individuals based on ZIP code. Without the corresponding disease information, these are seemingly of less value.

Prescription drug ad policies

This ban also comes after Facebook announced last year it would require telehealth providers to present written certification from Legitscript, a third party certification provider, prior to promoting prescription drugs in ads on Facebook. Under the prior policy, pharmaceutical manufacturers have also been required to obtain pre-approval from Facebook prior to running ads promoting prescription drugs. Facebook had earlier required online pharmacies to go through a certification process prior to running ads on the platform; however, last year’s changes require similar certification for telehealth providers, and implement new requirements as well. Now, Facebook advertisers may only promote their products in the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand, and the ads must not target individuals under the age of 18. More information on these policies are online here:

Next steps

In light of Meta’s new policies on health targeting ads, pharmaceutical companies should consider reevaluating their subject recruitment standard operating procedures (SOPs), as well as their contracts with study recruitment vendors to see if any such agreements or SOPs need to be updated. Companies should also assess how these new policies may impact their social media strategies for disease state education and drug product communications.

If you have any questions on clinical trial recruiting strategies, targeting drug advertising, or social media advertising rules more generally, please contact any of the authors of this alert or the Hogan Lovells attorney with whom you generally work.


Authored by Meredith Manning, Ron Wisor, Heidi Gertner, Robert Church, and Sally Gu


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