On television and radio, the ads are fairly innocuous: "Hey guy," a female narrator says playfully in one TV spot for Hims, one's wellness brand that sells prescription drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, oral herpes, social anxiety, hair loss, and other conditions. “Hi there. Welcome to Hims. ”
The ad invites viewers to“ get ED treatment started for only $ 5, ”next to a close-up of a young man pressing a white pill seductively to his lips. What appear to be customer reviews are superimposed on the image: “Should have done it years ago and I feel like the young stud that I always imagined I was,” says one. ”Outstanding product, works above and beyond our expectations,” reads another.
Much like other ads for Hims — and its sister brand, Hers, which sells prescription drugs and wellness products for women — this is broadcast on television, radio, podcasts, or appear in print or on billboards, this ad is rather generic, it describes a medical problem, alludes to the company's business model ̵
Such ads violate Facebook policies that prohibit the sale or use of prescription drugs or suggestion that users have a specific condition. Earlier this month, Facebook removed three Hims ads for sildenafil that had been flagged by WIRED; a Facebook spokesperson said the ads violated Facebook policies. But hundreds of other ads from Hims and Hers to specific prescription drugs were active on Facebook as of Friday.
Many online ads from Hims and Hers also may run afoul of US Food and Drug Administration guidelines that require marketers to disclose the side effects associated with a drug. A ad ad prescription anti-acne medication tretinoin, for example, calls the drug "your skin's BFF" and offers "Serious results without the hassle." The ad suggests, "Skip the drive to the doctor's office and start today for just $ 5. "
The ad does not mention any of the side effects required by the FDA, which in tretinoin's case can include burning, itching, stinging, scaling, peeling, or redness of the skin, or sensitivity to sunlight, soaps, cosmetics, and other skincare products. Nor does the Hims ad for sildenafil mention side effects including low blood pressure, loss of vision or hearing, headaches, or insomnia. TV ads from Hims and Hers do not carry these disclosures because they do not mention specific drugs, instead of "treatment."
The FDA disclosure requirements apply to online, as well as traditional, media, says Hyosun Kim, a Professor at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point whose research focuses on online direct-to-consumer advertising or prescription drugs. "The FDA has these guidelines to protect consumers from misleading information, because [prescriptiondrugsit'sreallyimportantforthepatienttounderstandtheriskfactorsandanyother[interactions the drug might have]," she says. Kim says that, in her opinion, ads like that run by Hims and Hers – which do not include any risk information and in some cases claim to provide "serious results without the hassle" – violate FDA guidelines.
The FDA declined to comment on Hims and Hers ads specifically, citing department policy. However, an agency spokesperson emphasized that its prescription drug advertising guidelines generally apply to social media, and sent WIRED examples of recent actions taken against companies that had run Facebook ads for prescription drugs without properly disclosing the risks. , the FDA requirements should be applied to ensure any manufacturer or distributor communicates with a prescription drug is truthful, balanced and non-misleading, and ensures there is appropriate risk information, ”said Nathan Arnold, an agency spokesperson. “A general, if promotional or approved product results in violation of FDA statute or regulations, the FDA may take a compliance action, such as sending a warning letter to the company or imposing an injunction.”
Asked about the FDA requirements and the ads' silence on side effects, a spokesperson for Hims and Hers said the company's mission is to "empower all people with important information and options for their health and happiness and our advertising is intended to begin that conversation with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have faced barriers to treatment or treatment options… ”
“ This is why we make sure that advertising in a customer can see or engage with, ”the spokesperson continued,“ anyone who seeks treatment through the Hims & Hers platform is presented with information about potential risks at multiple points during this process and are only prescribed in an independent, licensed physician determin It is the best treatment option for that individual. ”
Hims and Hers offer a range of drugs, from erectile dysfunction and acne meds, to oral herpes drug valacyclovir and low libido medication. In some cases, the brands promote drugs other than those that are approved to treat, known as off-label use. For example, Hims and Hers market the blood-pressure drug propranolol as a treatment for anxiety.
According to the FDA, "The law does not allow drug companies to advertise benefits unless they are related to the FDA-approved use."
Asked about the propranolol ads, the spokesperson from Hims and Hers said “the product page for Propranolol (through which a customer must proceed in order to purchase) treatment of performance or other anxiety. Customers are again advised on this and required to specifically acknowledge their understanding during the consultation process. ”
Beyond the FDA, many Hims and Hers ads appear to violate Facebook's drug-advertising policies. A Facebook spokesperson said that three Hims ads identified by WIRED violated Facebook's policies by specifically referencing prescription drugs. The spokesperson noted that other Hims violated a different Facebook policy, which prohibits ads to know personal details about the viewer, or imply that the viewer has a particular attribute. The Facebook spokesperson said that this is shown below, implied that the viewer may be experiencing erectile dysfunction because of the words, "ED?" yeah [sic]it's normal. ”
On June 12, Facebook posted WIRED that the three offending ads had been removed. But a review of Facebook's Ad Library on Friday found more than 600 Hims and Hers ads, most of which are specifically aimed at the use of prescription medication without disclosing the risks of such drugs. In fact, around the time Facebook customs WIRED it removed the offending ads, Facebook approved dozens of ads at Hims and Hers that promoted the sale and use of the same prescription drugs. The Facebook spokesperson did not respond to six requests for comment about why other ads remain active and how Facebook enforces its policies.
With respect to Facebook, the Hims and Hers spokesperson said, "their policies are updated on a frequent and ongoing base and we work extremely closely with their advertising team to ensure all of our ads are in compliance with their requirements. ”Some experts say these online ads could endanger patients. "It's dangerous [and] irresponsible," says Arthur Caplan, director of NYU Langone Medical Center's Division of Medical Ethics. “A lot of people are looking for a quick fix [when it comes to their health]. These [online] direct-to-consumer ads are under the idea that you should see a doctor — which is the wrong attitude. ”Caplan says“ popping pills to solve your medical symptoms is not good medicine. You want to figure out what is the underlying disease. It's putting you at risk if you don't get that paid attention to. ”
More Great WIRED Stories