We have all been affected in some way by deregulation and the current mess that is Wall Street and the banking industry. More and more, it seems like there can never be a balanced approach to societal behavior — where there is enough regulation to protect the consumer, while continuing to promote free enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The overwhelming majority of those who work in the financial industry are probably honest and hardworking; unfortunately, there are always the greedy wretches who will stop at nothing for their personal gains. Now, we are finally seeing the effects of years of unchecked abuses, and the subsequent payback that we must now commit to for years to come.

If you can imagine a pendulum that has swung to one side — in this case, complete anarchy in the industry and subsequent ripple effects globally — it’s bound to swing to the other side eventually, after heavy regulation and, unfortunately, limitations in free enterprise.

Similar behavior can also be observed in almost every other industry, including pharmaceutical marketing and advertising space. Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about the FDA’s warning letters to many of the top pharmaceutical companies — including GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck & Co. — in reference to their use of Google™ AdWords (or what some bloggers call “bAdWords”).

To date, the FDA does not have specific guidelines for digital advertising. Instead, it reverts back to the general guidelines that apply to all media — namely, that any representations about a drug’s indication and efficacy must be accompanied by a fair balance.

Often, due to fear of repercussions from the FDA and DDMAC, many of the internal legal and regulatory bodies within pharmaceutical companies have become ultra-conservative as a result (again, the pendulum swings too far to one side).

Many blame the FDA for not providing specific guidelines — instead, sending warning letters and reprimands. While this is a valid complaint, digital media is such a rapidly evolving technology, it has become increasingly difficult for federal regulators — along with company executives, marketers, and decision makers — not only to understand the scope of this arena, but to learn how to utilize it to regulate (from the FDA’s standpoint) or educate their audience without repercussions (from the marketer’s standpoint).

So what is the solution? I wish I had a crystal ball that could help us navigate this course, but I don’t. One thing seems clear: We should not completely avoid this new, virtual territory by abandoning the use of AdWords and social media campaigns, thereby allowing the pendulum to swing too far to one side.

Instead, what would happen if pharmaceutical companies refrained from making any efficacy claims in these ads, posting only the brand and generic name, in a return to the original “reminder ad”? Perhaps the campaign would not be as robust, but it would still be effective. And, if a product’s name shows up when searching for a particular disease state, don’t we trust today’s digitally smart and savvy consumers to draw their own conclusions?

Perhaps marketers will start laying the foundation of the disease state landscape through the branded name, infusing more descriptive language when introducing a new pharmaceutical into the marketplace. I also believe that given this heightened scrutiny, the use of unbranded disease state websites will increase; which raises another question about the use of “redirecting” URLs in AdWords. How will the FDA interpret this common practice in the future? I guess we shall wait and see. Or should we be more proactive and start trying to inch that pendulum a bit closer to the middle?