Online pharmacy breach advertising standards code

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has upheld a complaint that challenged whether the online pharmacy, Pharmica, had advertised erectile dysfunction (ED) prescription-only medicines (POMs) to the public.

Prescription-only medicines or prescription-only medical treatments must not be advertised to the public.

A paid-for Google ad for an online pharmacy, Pharmica, seen on 31st May 2021, featured text that stated:

“Buy Erection Treatment £7.19 – Lowest UK Price Guarantee. Get 10% Off All ED Treatment. Easily Treat Erectile Dysfunction … Spring Sale: 10% off ED Tablets Today Code ED10.”

The ASA has stated that Pharmica Ltd did not believe the advert in question had promoted POMs. They pointed out that neither the advert nor the landing page to which it linked, included any terms or text relating to POMs. They believed the term “ED Tablets” could refer to either POM or non-POM ED treatments. They pointed out that the savings claim in the advert did not refer to POMs specifically, and said the price promotion had not been used in an attempt to upsell specific POMs.

Commenting on the case the ASA stated:

“We noted that the advert featured the claim “10% off ED Tablets Today”, but did not mention specific products. The website landing page to which the advert linked featured a range of POM and non-POM tablets, for the treatment of ED.

“In that context, we considered that the references to “tablets” in the advert would be understood by consumers as referring to both POM and non-POM tablets for the treatment of ED and that the 10% off promotion, therefore, applied to the advertiser’s POM and non-POM tablets.

“We sought advice from the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Their view was that an advert for ED treatment that included references to “tablets”, and which also had a clear implication that would be the outcome of a consultation, were likely to promote POMs unless it made clear that an over the counter (OTC) product was being advertised.

“We noted that the advert did not refer to any other treatment options and considered that it, therefore, had a clear implication that tablets would be the outcome of a consultation.

“While we noted that the advert did not specifically name any of the POMs that could treat ED, we considered that in the absence of any information stating that the 10% off promotion applied exclusively to non-POMs, the advert promoted POMs to the public and therefore breached the Code.”

The advert breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.12 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products) and the company was instructed that the advert must not appear again. In addition, the ASA told Pharmica Ltd not to advertise POMs to the public in future.

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