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Superdrug warned: don’t advertise prescription-only medicines

12 February 2015

The ASA have this week published an upheld complaint against Superdrug Stores plc, reminding them that their future advertising should not directly or indirectly promote prescription-only medicines (‘POM’). In this instance, the wording of the ad (‘Up To 76% Cheaper Than Competitors’) focussed on the purchase of a POM rather than a wider focus on the promotion of a consultation to discuss a range of therapeutic options.

The complaint in question was made by Pharmacy2U in relation to Superdrug’s sponsored search advertising on Google for erectile dysfunction, for which the only treatment that could be bought through Superdrug’s online service at that time was the purchase of a POM. Under section 284 of The Human Medicines Regulations 2012, advertisers cannot publish advertisements for POM; this is brought directly within the Code of Advertising Practice by Rule 12.12 – this ruling makes it clear that advertisers should also not publish advertisements that are likely to lead to the use of a POM.

Whilst Superdrug did offer advice on lifestyle changes that may assist sufferers by referring to the price of the POM, this meant that the POM became the focus of the advertisement. The ASA emphasised in this ruling that an advertisement only has to be likely to promote a POM, directly or indirectly, to fall foul of the Code. Online pharmacy companies should therefore take extra care when dealing with advertising that could potentially relate to POM as a potential treatment option.

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