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Healthcare Marketing – When Privacy Issues Tie Your Hands

Published: January 4, 2019

Author: Kaelee Heuschkel

Even before the GDPR news dropped, the issue of privacy was very much front and center for all digital advertisers. And in a few industries, privacy has helped both limit and define marketing programs for many years. Today, we’ll look at a few ways user privacy shapes digital strategy by channel in healthcare marketing.

Paid Search

It is very difficult to maintain any ad copy, keyword or landing pages that are prescription drug-related. Sometimes, as in all accounts, things will get through temporarily but will ultimately be disapproved. (In other words, approvals are most likely fool’s gold.)
Certain medical businesses can apply to be certified by Google to serve ads:

  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers
  • Online pharmacies

Note that often, businesses that are not technically online pharmacies (e.g. online doctors who prescribe medications) will run into the issue of disapproved ads and keywords. You may be able to wangle some permissions if you have a responsive Google rep, but it’s better to have a contingency plan than to rely on search as a significant channel.


AdWords has strict policies in place for remarketing for sensitive products and services. For example, remarketing for clinical trial recruitment is not allowed. Additionally, remarketing for prescription medications, OTC medications, and even information about medications is prohibited.
Beyond medication, remarketing lists will also be disabled for promoting medical physical conditions, mental conditions, and invasive surgery (this includes cosmetic surgery). And this makes perfect sense for consumers; these are really topics people may not want to see banner ads for.
Some other restricted categories include negative financial status (for example, bankruptcy) as well as personal relationship hardships (such as divorce).

Lead Generation

Since remarketing is not an option, other forms of lead nurturing (e.g. email, newsletter opt-in) are even more important for the media mix. Optimized landing pages are critical so that businesses can legally capture leads and focus on converting them through other channels beyond the GDN.
The silver lining in all of this is that your competitors are in the same boat. The brands who get creative and resourceful with their digital marketing are going to have a huge leg up in revenue and awareness. If you’re working with an agency, make sure to challenge them periodically with new ways to stretch the limits – while respecting users along the way.

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