What Does AstraZeneca Pulling Their Sponsored Twitter Ads Mean for Pharma?

Nearly a year ago, Twitter introduced Twitter Cards to “make it possible for you to attach media experiences to tweets that link to your content.” By simply adding a few lines of HTML, or meta tags, to web pages, users who tweet links to the content on those pages will have a “card” added to the tweet that’s visible to all of their followers. But, unfortunately, many marketers are not aware of Twitter Cards. Just ask AstraZeneca, who recently pulled their sponsored tweets on Twitter after being made aware that the unbranded content in their sponsored tweets, which appeared in the Associated Press’ Twitter feed, actually included the name of a prescription drug because of Twitter Cards.

According to The Pink Sheet, the two tweets in question, posted August 27, looked like disease awareness ads at first glance. But when the tweets were expanded through a user’s click on an included link labeled “View Summary,” they revealed a summary for AZ’s YouTube channel. The summary included the name of AZ’s acid reflux treatment, Nexium (esomeprazole), without the required important safety information. This made the tweet risky at best—and non-compliant at worst.

This happened for a few reasons:

  • The original tweet linked to AZ’s Nexium YouTube Channel, AZPurpleZone. The channel is compliant and contains all of the necessary disclaimers and safety information. What many people may or may not know (including AZ and its agencies) is that YouTube has placed Twitter Card meta tags on many YouTube channels, including AZPurpleZone.
  • AstraZeneca (or, more likely, one of its agencies) composed an unbranded, sponsored tweet with a link to the branded YouTube channel using a shortened bit.ly link. Most link shortening services, like bit.ly, replicate all meta tags, including Twitter Card data.
  • The Associated Press was the third party that posted the sponsored tweet on their feed. And, many of the tweets on AP’s page include the “View Summary” link, which means that either AP or YouTube validated the shortened URL to enable the Twitter Summary Card to appear.

The noncompliant tweet could have been avoided in three ways. First, the content that was linked to (the YouTube channel) should have had compliant Twitter Card meta data. Working with YouTube, AZ could have created Twitter Card meta tags for the AZPurpleZone channel that did not put their tweet at risk. It may even have made the experience more interactive. And although it is unclear at the time of this writing whether or not YouTube would allow this type of collaboration, it is theoretically and technologically possible.

Along the same line of thinking, AZ had the opportunity to create very relevant and interactive tweets using Twitter Cards and the appropriate, compliant meta tags. Many industries, including pharma, have clamored for options on Twitter that go beyond the 140-character limitation, and Twitter Cards are that option. Instead of the original tweets being paired with the branded YouTube channel, the unbranded experience could have been extended and enhanced through other content including videos and imagery that could have been presented within the Twitter Card.

Finally, if using Twitter Cards and embedding meta data was not an option for AZ, they could have used a different URL shortener in place of bit.ly such as the pharma-safe URL shortener ssshare.it. The shortened links created by ssshare.it do not allow Twitter Card meta tags to be enabled and the “View Summary” link to be shown to the end user. Therefore, the Twitter Card for AZ’s tweet would have never shown up on AP’s Twitter feed because the “View Summary” link would not have appeared on the sponsored tweet.

We know the various communications platforms that exist today are making marketing more complex. But those platforms are also allowing us to have extremely relevant conversations with, and provide brilliant experiences for, our customers. But first, we must understand the technology and exactly how even the smallest detail might affect our marketing to make those conversations and experiences a reality.


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