One of our clients here at Hanapin is in the hCG diet space, which is a very exciting, fast paced, and competitive vertical in the PPC world. From an agency standpoint, it’s a great account to work on because accounts with a high level of spend generally come with a team of Google folks to work with on the account. That was the case with our client and this Google team was particularly great and collaborative on efforts to improve the account. The other side of having a great Google team is that you get the bad news first. Unfortunately, we got the bad news yesterday evening. We were told that hCG is being banned on Google AdWords.
This is the first time I’ve had to go through a black listing on Google. The reasoning behind the ban is somewhat foggy. Part of the explanation is that the FDA has labeled oral hCG for weight loss as being “economic fraud” and that is the reasoning behind it. There has also been some bad press about the hCG diet in the past few days, which might have had some influence as well. As far as I can tell, the majority of the FDA talk has stemmed from an article posted by USA Today back in January. While this article was posted by a well-respected news source, there is no official stance on the issue posted on the FDA’s website (at least none that I could find in about an hours worth of research). Our Google reps also confirmed that they haven’t seen any actual literature from Google stating their stance. With that said, they don’t know what’s going on in legal behind the scenes so something may exist we don’t necessarily know about.
If we assume there is no official word on hCG from the FDA, it brings to question exactly how Google makes the decision to ban products or keywords from paid advertising. I don’t have the answer but I don’t feel confident there is a common answer. I was told by Google employees that it comes down to individual decisions within their policy team. For example, they have products that the FDA has taken a firm stance against that they do allow to be advertised and likewise, there are products that the FDA says are perfectly OK that they have banned in the past. I wasn’t given any specific examples but needless to say, there is no definitive way to get booted (or not booted).
As far as hCG is concerned here is what I know. I was told by the source that it’s getting blacklisted. Currently however, our account is still active and driving clicks and sales. I also can say that for every piece of bad press or negative toned writing that is online, there is an overwhelming amount of supportive testimonials posted as a response. I feel like the ban is a little premature given there is no official FDA statement. The use of hCG for weight loss was first identified by Dr. Albert T. W. Simeons, whose work in this area has been trusted by those in the know for over half a century. I guess what I’m trying to put together is that there seems to be as much good to this product as there is controversy and it’s far easier to find a testimonial about how great the product is as compared to someone saying it harmed them in some way.
I can attest to the fact that thousands and thousands of folks have tried the diet. Direct traffic accounts for about 25% of our clients revenue, with many of those people being repeat customers. You would think if people thought they were being fraudulently cheated out of their money there would be more negative testimonials but the reality is, the majority of the negativity out there is from people who have never actually tried the diet. The diet itself is trending right now, which I think had as much to do with the ban as anything else. If it weren’t so popular, we wouldn’t see the high level of publicity that might be the driving factor in this decision. After all, the product and diet has been around long before Google was a glimmer in Larry and Sergei’s eye. They allowed advertising on it up until this point, so why the sudden change in policy? We may never know.