7 Clinical Trial Advertising Do's and Don'ts

A major challenge in clinical trial advertising is being creative in your outreach materials while following FDA guidelines. While it can take more time and research to craft copy within such narrow parameters, it is definitely possible to engage patients without breaking the rules.

Follow these do's and don'ts to ensure your copy, images, and ad placements connect with the right patients – and won't be rejected by your Institutional Review Board (IRB) or distribution channel, such as Facebook.

1. Don't claim that the treatment under investigation is safe or effective for patients.

This is an important guideline from the FDA. Because the study drug hasn't yet been approved, your ads can't state or imply that it will be effective for patients. This includes referring to the investigational medication as a "new treatment" or "new option."

Do address the goal of the clinical trial.

When making the decision to participate in a clinical trial, patients report that knowing the goal of the clinical trial helps them understand the benefits and risks of joining. Mention specific symptoms the investigative medication aims to treat, for example. This can also be a good area to mention inclusion or exclusion criteria related specifically to symptoms.

2. Don't emphasize payment for participation in the trial.

Your ad will be rejected by your Institutional Review Board (IRB) if you emphasize payments for a patient's participation. Emphasizing payment can include using bold or larger fonts for money-related statements, or otherwise mentioning payment in a prominent way in your ads.

Do mention payment if it's available.

While you can't emphasize payments in your ads, it's still acceptable to mention them. Clinical trials ask patients to take time to travel to site, usually, and spend a few hours at a site visit. Offering payment can be a strong incentive, even if the trial is just covering travel costs. While you can't scream "Get paid for clinical trials!!!" in large font in a banner ad, you can mention compensation somewhere in your ad or on the website or prescreener for your trial.

3. Don't choose images that suggest the treatment is effective.

In addition to making sure the language you use doesn't imply that the treatment works, be careful with the imagery you choose, too. For example, if you're running a trial for exercise-induced asthma, it may be misleading to use images of people running without issue. Every IRB is different, but some may even hesitate to approve images of people showing much emotion in general. If your images are too sad, for example, they may be considered emotionally manipulative, while if they're too cheerful, they may suggest a guaranteed treatment benefit.

Do choose images that match your patient population.

As you research your patient population, consider the demographics of the people you're trying to reach. Then, choose images that reflect the patient population, with special attention to the diversity of the patient community. It can be helpful to create "personas" that reflect different portions of your patient population or different motivations to take part in a trial. It can also be useful to choose images that aim to portray a particular symptom of the condition so patients can recognize it with just a quick glance at your ad. Examples include showing an inhaler for asthma trials, or a blood sugar monitor for diabetes trials. Be careful to choose imagery that fits your trial, though – if the trial is for an oral, rather than inhaled, asthma medication, showing inhalers may not be the right choice.

4. Don't advertise "free treatment" for trial participants.

Though medical costs related to the study are generally covered in a clinical trial, it may be misleading to tell patients they will receive "free medical treatments" as participants. If you do want to communicate that there is no cost to participate, you may consider adding language such as "study-related care will be covered" to indicate that additional care will not be provided.

Do highlight other benefits of participating.

Many clinical trial participants are motivated by the opportunity to help move research forward for their condition area. Highlighting volunteership in your ad copy can be one way to connect with patients by sticking to FDA guidelines.

5. Don't claim that the treatment is equivalent to other, existing treatments.

If the goal of your clinical trial is to prove equivalence to an existing drug, be careful not to imply it's already been proven to work the same way or better. Use language that's as clear and accurate as possible to help patients understand the goal of your trial.

Do describe how the trial will work.

Will your trial use a placebo? Or measure the effectiveness of an existing treatment against an investigational one? Help your audience understand what the trial will involve. You can also include helpful information like where the site is located, and the trial schedule.

6. Don't address "personal attributes" in your ad copy for Facebook ads.

This tip is specific to Facebook ad guidelines, rather than FDA rules in general. Facebook will take down your ad if they feel it speaks too specifically to a person's personal attributes, such as gender or race. These guidelines include calling out patients specifically by their condition. For example, "Asthma clinical trials in New York" would be acceptable, but "Do you have asthma? Find a clinical trial" would not be approved. Read more about "personal attributes" guidelines from Facebook.

Do include a summary of eligibility criteria.

In any ad format, it can be helpful to include at least one or two mentions of specific eligibility criteria. Including eligibility criteria in your ad can also help reduce clicks from patients who don't quality for your trial, particularly if the criteria are very specific. When putting together your IRB packet, include a variety of outreach options that speak to various inclusion and exclusion criteria so you can see which ads perform best.

7. Don't use "coercive" language in your ads.

In addition to avoiding language that implies that the treatment under investigation will be effective, the FDA advises advertisers to stay away from "coercive" language in general. In our experience at Antidote, that can include language or images that comes off as overly emotional. This is particularly important when speaking to patients who are "likely to be vulnerable to undue influence," the FDA says, for example, children. Language such as "asthma in kids is dangerous" may not be approved.

Do empathize with patients.

While you may be limited in the language you can use, it's still important to understand the patient experience and speak to patients from a place of empathy. Choose imagery and language that's empowering and compassionate, but doesn't condescend or intimidate. For example, if you're running an Alzheimer's trial and targeting caregivers, you may choose to show an older couple or adult parent. When you put yourself in the shoes of your audience, you'll be more likely to choose impactful, but sensitive, language and images.

Looking for a way to connect with patients without running ads? Antidote Base is the newest way to directly search for patients who have already raised their hands to participate in research. Schedule a free demo, and we'll show you how it works.