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TGA social media advertising guide

13 May 2020

Advertising therapeutic goods in social media poses unique challenges. This guide is designed to help advertisers apply the legislative requirements for advertising therapeutic goods on social media platforms.

About the TGA

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is Australia's regulator of medicines and medical devices. We are responsible for ensuring the safety, efficacy and timely availability of therapeutic goods.

To find out more about the TGA, visit What is the Therapeutic Goods Administration?

About therapeutic goods

Therapeutic goods range from the medicines or medical devices we use in our daily lives when we apply a bandage, take medicine to relieve a headache, take vitamin tablets or apply sunscreen, through to goods used to treat serious conditions, such as prescription medicines, vaccines, blood products and surgical implants. For more information, see What are therapeutic goods?

Therapeutic goods have a health effect on the human body. These products are regulated by the TGA. Other types of goods, such as cosmetics, will also become subject to TGA regulations if they are represented for therapeutic use. Claims such as 'removes toxins', 'fades age spots', 'relieves pain', 'aids sugar metabolism', 'reduces inflammation in the body' are all therapeutic use claims. If these kinds of claims are made in an advertisement, then the advertised product will likely be considered a therapeutic good and therefore regulated under therapeutic goods legislation.

Therapeutic goods and consumer protection

Therapeutic goods are not ordinary items of commerce. They are intended to have an effect on the body, and there may be risks involved with their use. The therapeutic goods legislation ensures advertisements for therapeutic goods do not encourage inappropriate or irresponsible use of therapeutic goods. For more information, see Advertising and the Act.

About social media advertising

Not all information about therapeutic goods is advertising; however, the definition of 'advertise' in relation to therapeutic goods is broad. Any statement, pictorial representation or design that is intended, whether directly or indirectly, to promote the use or supply of the goods is an advertisement. A social media post that promotes the use or supply of therapeutic goods is an advertisement. Whether an advertisement for therapeutic goods appears on social media or in any other media, the advertisement must comply with therapeutic goods legislation.

Find out more about the types of activities that are considered advertising on the TGA website.

Basic advertising rules

Before you advertise therapeutic goods, it is your responsibility to understand the legislative requirements. Advertisements are required to comply with the advertising requirements set out in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code (No.2) 2018.

You are encouraged to read the TGA's guidance on advertising.

Advertisers may also find it helpful to:

The Code sets the requirements advertisers must meet to ensure the marketing and advertising of therapeutic goods:

  • is conducted in a manner that promotes the quality use of the product,
  • is socially responsible, and
  • does not mislead or deceive the consumer.

Some of the basic advertising rules require an advertisement to:

  • be accurate, balanced and verified
  • only make claims that are consistent with the advertised good's indication or intended purpose as it is recorded on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods
  • contain certain mandatory warning statements, which vary depending on the type of therapeutic good being advertised
  • only use testimonials that comply with the Code - testimonials must comply with all applicable aspects of the Code, not just the requirements set out in section 17 of the Code
  • not claim that a product can diagnose, treat or cure a serious condition without prior permission or approval from the TGA.

Some therapeutic goods, including prescription and certain pharmacist-only medicines are prohibited from being advertised directly to the public. These goods are high risk and their safe and appropriate use requires health professional oversight to ensure the benefits outweigh the harms for each individual.

The TGA has powers to direct advertisers to take down non-compliant advertising, and can pursue criminal or civil penalties against advertisers who put consumers at risk. Heavy fines and penalties apply. For more information, see our warning to advertisers and check out the Advertising Hub on the TGA website.

Business owner responsibilities

Business owners are responsible for the content of any social media page created or managed by them, including websites, social media channels, blog posts, hashtags or discussion forums. This responsibility extends to user-generated content, such as third party comments posted on those social media platforms that are controlled by the business.

All advertising for therapeutic goods must promote the safe and responsible use of those goods and must not take advantage of consumers, including through third party comments on social media.

Compliance with the advertising requirements under therapeutic goods legislation means that social media advertisements for therapeutic goods must meet the following requirements.

  • Advertisements must include the relevant mandatory statements, including health warnings where applicable.
  • Advertisements must not promote a therapeutic good for a purpose other than the purpose accepted by the TGA and entered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods entry for the good.
  • Advertisements must not contain prohibited or restricted representations without prior permission or approval from the TGA.
  • Advertisements must not promote goods with therapeutic use claims if those goods are not included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (unless the goods are exempt from that requirement). Making therapeutic use claims about a product in an advertisement will generally make the advertisement subject to the legal requirements for advertising therapeutic goods, even if the product may not ordinarily be considered a therapeutic good. An exception applies for foods for which there is a food standard. To find out if a food standard applies, go to the 'food medicine interface' guidance tool on the TGA website.
  • Advertisements must only uses testimonials that are compliant with the Code, including the requirement to disclose, where applicable, that the testimonial provider has received 'valuable consideration' for the provision of the testimonial. 'Valuable consideration' is payment of some value (such as monetary payment or free product). Advising consumers that a testimonial provider has received an incentive to provide a testimonial will assist consumers in making an informed decision about the weight they give such testimonials. Further information about testimonials and 'valuable consideration' is available in the Code guidance.
  • Advertisements must not contain testimonials or endorsements which breach the Code. Such testimonials and endorsements must be removed within a reasonable timeframe. What is considered a reasonable timeframe depends on factors such as the size of the company and the number of followers the page has. Between 24-48 hours is considered a ‘reasonable timeframe’ for large companies with dedicated regulatory staff. Smaller companies with a smaller following may require a longer period (up to 5 days). The ACCC has provided further guidance on their website.

The TGA recommends that businesses:

  • adopt an 'acceptable use policy' on its own social media page, warning third parties that non-compliant comments will be removed from the page
  • provide corrective information if it becomes aware of misinformation from third parties on social media channels. Advertisers need to ensure any corrective information also complies with the advertising requirements if the corrective information is used within an advertisement or it is an advertisement in its own right.

Tips for social media influencers

If you are an influencer who is involved with a therapeutic goods company (for example, you have been paid or given a product by the company to promote their products), you should consider the following tips.

  • Any post about a therapeutic good that you make may be considered advertising. If it is, you have an obligation to comply with the advertising requirements for therapeutic goods.
  • Any comments you make about your personal experience with therapeutic goods amounts to a testimonial. Testimonials are not permitted by those involved in the production, sale, supply or marketing of the goods. This includes influencers who are engaged by a therapeutic goods company to promote the goods.
  • Your social media posts may have an impact on your followers’ beliefs, attitudes, preferences and behaviours. Your comments about therapeutic goods can influence consumers’ choices. Therapeutic goods should be chosen on the basis of clinical need, not through the persuasion of influencers.
  • Understand what the approved purpose of the good is and do not advertise the good for a purpose other than that, even if your experience with the good is otherwise. For more information about the intended purpose of a therapeutic good, see the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.
  • Seek advice from a lawyer or regulatory affairs consultant if you are unsure about your obligations in relation to social media advertising of therapeutic goods. For more information about advertising therapeutic goods, visit the TGA Advertising Hub.