AstraZeneca is breaking new ground in social media drug promotion… again. It has posted a branded promotion for its breast cancer drug Arimidex on AZ Health Connections, which is “A blog for AstraZeneca’s US business.”

The post — titled “AstraZeneca’s ARIMIDEX® (anastrozole) tablets Direct program provides valuable resources to program enrollees”– promotes ARIMIDEX Direct, which is AstraZeneca’s “first-ever direct-to-patient program. It enables eligible patients to easily enroll and receive brand-name ARIMIDEX delivered directly to their home for $40 per month, including shipping.”

There is no doubt that in the eyes of the FDA, this post is a direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad. It mentions a product by brand name (ARIMIDEX), its indication (adjuvant treatment of postmenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive early breast cancer), and includes the necessary important safety information (ISI) plus link to the full prescribing info. See the ad at left (click on image for enlarged view).

This is not the first time that a DTC ad has appeared on the AZ corporate blog. Back in May, 2012, an AZ Health Connections Blog post titled “New CDC data shows drop in number of adults with high cholesterol” included information about Crestor, including the product brand name (CRESTOR), its indication (lower cholesterol), and important safety information. In other words, that post also included a direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad.

Regarding the Crestor blog post, I said:

“While the post does conform to FDA regulations as far as I know, it seemed a bit opportunistic and out-of-place on a corporate blog focused on broader issues of interest to AZ. If every corporate communications channel becomes just another channel to promote specific products, it diminishes the value of that channel for the intended audience. This post, IMHO, strays from the blog’s stated goal: ‘We will be talking about a range of topics including breaking news, corporate social responsibility, healthcare reform, and more.’ Of course, ‘more’ opens the door to anything, but a reasonable reader would not expect ‘more’ to include product promotions” (see here).

I also complained that dedicating the MAJORITY of a post titled “New CDC data shows drop in number of adults with high cholesterol” to the promotion of CRESTOR seems to belie what the title promised to deliver. That comment seemed to hit a nerve with AZ because the Arimidex post delivers EXACTLY what the title promises.

But the Arimidex post/ad may not be very effective in delivering readers to the product website. No matter where you click on the ad, you are taken to the full prescribing information, which is a multi-page, highly technical, and patient-unfriendly pdf document. Although the ad includes an area that invites users to “visit,” when you click on the area, you get the pdf file. In the text area of the post, above the ad, however, is this invitation: “visit the website for enrollment information.” Here “website” is clickable and leads to the product site. Hey, it could work.

I am not against the drug industry using blogs to promote their products, but I wonder if corporate blogs are appropriate venues for these ads. It seems to me that ads on blogs should not be posts disguised as content. Common practice on Internet content sites is to have a wall between editorial content and advertising and ads should be labeled as “advertisements.”

So why post this information to AZ Health Connections blog?  Perhaps AZ is trying to generate some “earned” media coverage from the typical readers of the blog. Such readers include bloggers like me, patient advocate bloggers, and news reporters. In other words, the post has a chance of “going viral,” which is not a likely possibility for a traditional Internet display ad.