Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore ethical issues related to pharmaceutical marketers’ social media efforts including the prevalence and forms of direct-to-consumer web 2.0 advertising (eDTCA) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) messages across social networking sites (SNSs). One goal is to determine if these eDTCA posts comply with draft guidelines issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Design/methodology/approach: Content analysis of ten pharmaceutical marketers’ SNS posts documented the frequency and types of posts devoted to eDTCA, drug risks and benefits, CSR, and other purposes. Findings: eDTCA represents about 35 percent of all pharmaceutical firm SNS posts and primarily communicates help-seeking messages via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Firms also promote their ethical image through CSR-related posts. These posts primarily highlight employee-focussed and community-focussed initiatives. Analysis of consumer behavior in response to each post shows that eDTCA affects only liking of YouTube videos, but CSR increases behavior responses on all SNSs except LinkedIn. Social implications: Despite absence of final guidance, pharmaceutical marketers seem to abide by FDA draft social media guidance. In line with the FDA’s draft fair-balance regulations, almost all product-claim eDTCA posts state both benefit and risk information. Nevertheless, the FDA should issue final eDTCA guidance without delay consistent with traditional media direct-to-consumer advertising guidance. This should benefit consumers through consistency with their existing advertising literacy competencies. Originality/value: The study represents an initial attempt to document ethical issues in the current state-of-the-practice of pharmaceutical social media marketing related to eDTCA and CSR.
- Advertising effectiveness
- Corporate social responsibility
- Direct-to-consumer advertising
- Pharmaceutical marketing
- Social media