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Pharmaceutical advertising guidelines: The ‘Need to Knows’

Advertising guidelines

Read time

4 min


16th November 2022


Written by Ollie Capel



*Updated Nov 2022

If you are a licensed pharmaceutical company, there is very little room for error when it comes to advertising. There are clear guidelines pertaining to any form of advertising campaign that pharmaceutical companies take in the UK – they are governed by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s (ABPI) Code of Practice.

While we have provided a link to this document, we realise it might be quite a lengthy read. So in this blog, we have broken down some of the key points in the ABPI Code of Practice for you to digest a little easier.

When can a medicine be promoted in the UK?

It is important to note that, according to the ABPI Code of Practice “a medicine must not be promoted before the grant of the marketing authorisation which permits its sale or supply”.

Digital guidelines

There are very clear guidelines for the marketing of pharmaceutical products via digital channels – including in emails or electronic journals. Prescribing information must be provided either “by inclusion in the digital material itself” or “by way of a clear and prominent direct single click link”.

When promotional material is being distributed via the internet, the material should include a “prominent statement” explaining where the prescribing information can be located.

Making comparisons

Comparing one product with another is an old marketing ploy, but how does this sit in the pharmaceutical industry? In the UK, the ABPI states that comparisons are only allowed if “any information, claim or comparison must be capable of substantiation”. The Code goes further to warn that any graphs, tables and illustrations used in comparisons must be referenced and presented in a clear, fair and balanced way.

By the same token, competitors in the pharmaceutical industry must not be disparaged, and the same goes for medical professionals.

Hitting the brakes on hyperbole

Marketing for pharmaceutical products in the UK must be done without “exaggerating its properties”. The guidance states that “all-embracing claims must not be made and superlatives must not be used except for those limited circumstances where they relate to a clear fact about a medicine”. If a medicine is said to have a special quality of merit, these claims must be substantiated properly.

Hand holding medicine in a pharmacy

Clinical trials

All details of clinical trials must be disclosed “in accordance with the Joint Position on the Disclosure of Clinical Trial Information via Clinical Trial Registries and Databases and the Joint Position on the Publication of Clinical Trial Results in the Scientific Literature”. 

Recruiting patients for clinical trials can be one of the most challenging and time-consuming stages of medical product or service development and we explore clinical trial recruitment in more detail here


Promotional material must be certified “by one person on behalf of the company in the manner provided for by this clause, subject to the provisions of the supplementary information to this clause where relevant” before it is issued. This person “must be a registered medical practitioner or a pharmacist registered in the UK”, or in the case of dentistry, a UK-registered dentist.

Marketing of prescription-only medicine

In the UK, no organisation can promote prescription-only medication to members of the public. There is further reading on this subject through the links below:

International governing bodies

Pharma companies advertising in other countries are subject to the native guidelines in a particular country. We have included some links to some examples of these native codes of practices below:

In summary

Those are some of the key takeaways from advertising guidelines concerning pharmaceuticals in the UK. For more information on pharmaceutical marketing, give us a call today to chat further. Additionally, you might find these posts interesting:

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