The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it will conduct two studies to assess how the promotion of pharmaceuticals by different types of endorsers – celebrities, physicians, patients and influencers – affect users’ reactions to medication, including “recognition of [the nature of the content as a] promotion and endorser as [having been] paid; attitudes toward the product, endorser, and ad; and behavioral intentions, such as asking a doctor about the drug.”
The first study will show print ads featuring a physician, a celebrity and a patient for a fictitious acne product with either a full disclosure that the person was paid to appear or no disclosure at all.
The second study will show an Instagram influencers’ followers posts about a fictitious endometriosis product labelled as paid ads, labelled indirectly using the likes of #ad, or not labelled at all. Although they haven’t disclosed the influencer’s identity in order to retain the integrity of the study, they have chosen an influencer that has posted about endometriosis previously and has more than 500,000 followers.
According to the filing, the FDA will then compare users’ responses to pharma-related posts from the different types of endorsers and how this changes users’ perceptions. The public now has until March 30 to submit comments about the proposed study.
Although Instagram forbids the paid marketing of pharmaceuticals, a growing number of influencers are promoting medical services and products on Instagram. Influencers have been criticized in the past for deceptive marketing. Take celebrity influencer Kim Kardashian, for example. In 2015, she promoted Duchesnay’s morning sickness pill to her followers on social media with just links to the website with safety information at the bottom. Sales boosted by 21% over just a few months but resulted in a warning letter from the FDA as she omitted the risks associated with the drug.