What Is The Difference Between US & UK Pharmaceutical Marketing?

Dec 15, 2021

Separated by the huge expanse that is the Atlantic Ocean, the principles behind pharmacy digital marketing in both regions can feel like two completely separate worlds, with two separate central principles.

The biggest difference between the UK and the US in terms of medical marketing is the rules surrounding direct-to-consumer advertising, which determines what types of medication can be advertised directly to the general public and the rules governing this advertising.

In the UK, both the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) specifically ban the promotion of prescription medication in all marketing materials, including on a website.

Interestingly, GlaxoSmithKline, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, noted that they would not lobby to change this rule in the UK.

In the United States, prescription medications can be advertised, although these adverts must make clear the major contraindications and side effects and fairly cover the risks and the benefits of using the medication.

There are several reasons for this change, with some being cultural, some being financial and some being related to the role of the doctor in a patient’s life.

In the UK, the majority of patients will trust the authority of their GP or specialist more than in the US, with the doctor playing a much larger role in deciding the best course of treatment. By contrast, in the US, there is more of an expectation that a doctor can get whichever advertised medicine you want.

This has led to frustration amongst members of the American Medical Association (AMA), who want to ban direct-to-consumer advertising due to the increased requests for expensive, sometimes inappropriate treatments.

On the other hand, with most people paying for their own treatment in the US rather than through the NHS in the UK, people expect more agency, freedom and control over their treatment pathway.

Whilst this can help drive awareness of conditions that may not be known or talked about, it has been, at best, merely tolerated in the US as a fact of the market.

As a result, most medical marketing in the UK is focused on over-the-counter medication that can be picked up without a prescription.