AUTH/3393/10/20 - Anonymous v Boehringer Ingelheim

Use of social media to advertise meetings

  • Received
    04 October 2020
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    19 March 2021
  • No breach Clause(s)
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal

Case Summary

An anonymous, non-contactable complainant, who described him/herself as a health professional, complained about Facebook posts and tweets made by Boehringer Ingelheim Limited to advertise a promotional webinar titled ‘How should bleeding risk influence your treatment decision-making for stroke prevention in NVAF [nonvalvular atrial fibrillation]? Boehringer Ingelheim marketed Pradaxa (dabigatran) which was indicated, among other things, for the prevention of stroke and systemic embolism in certain adult patients with NVAF.

The complainant queried how, if Boehringer Ingelheim had certified the posts as promotional items for promotional meetings for health professionals, they could be aimed at a broader public audience on social media. The complainant stated that there was not enough information for the audience to make an informed choice about what they were signing up to; the posts did not state what 'products' would be discussed. The complainant alleged that Boehringer Ingelheim had used the teaser invite to rope people in and surprise them in the actual meeting. The complainant further noted that when he/she clicked on the link, it did not state anywhere that this was a promotional meeting.

The detailed response from Boehringer Ingelheim is given below.

The Panel noted Boehringer Ingelheim’s submission that the material provided by the complainant was a paid for Twitter advertisement, part of the company’s social media campaign to advertise a promotional webinar. The Panel further noted the submission that the paid for Twitter advertisement would only appear to individuals targeted by the campaign and not within the feed of the general Boehringer Ingelheim social media pages.

The Panel noted the groups that the Twitter campaign targeted, which in its view would include health professionals but would also likely include some individuals who did not meet the Code’s definition of a health professional or other relevant decision maker. The Panel further noted that the complainant described him/herself as a health professional and that it had no evidence before it that the advertisement was not relevant to him/her.

The Panel noted Boehringer Ingelheim’s submission that the advertisement was certified as non-promotional material; it did not directly or indirectly refer to a specific medicine. Individuals clicking on the post would be taken to a registration page which also did not directly or indirectly refer to a specific medicine. Individuals had to register as a health professional, and have their identity confirmed by the company, to see further material. The Panel noted its comments above and, on the evidence before it, considered that neither the Twitter advertisement, nor the linked registration page constituted promotion of a prescription only medicine to the public and ruled no breach of the Code.

The Panel noted that the Twitter advertisement was posted from the Boehringer Ingelheim UK Twitter account, and both the advertisement and linked registration page stated that the meeting was organised by Boehringer Ingelheim and that product-related information would be discussed. The Panel considered that the promotional nature of the meeting would be clear to individuals prior to registration and therefore no breach of the Code was ruled.

On the evidence before it, the Panel did not consider that Boehringer Ingelheim had failed to maintain high standards and there was no evidence that it had brought discredit upon or reduced confidence in the industry. No breaches of the Code were ruled including Clause 2.

The Panel noted that the complainant also referred to Facebook posts but provided no evidence to support his/her allegation in that regard. In the Panel’s view the complainant had not discharged his/her burden of proof that Boehringer Ingelheim had breached the Code in relation to Facebook and therefore no breach of the Code was ruled.