Clinical Trial Advertisement

How are clinical trials advertised?

Clinical trials are commonly advertised and diffused through a variety of media, including:1,2

  • Print media, such as recruitment flyers, posters and physical ads (i.e., at bus stops, in clinics), newspaper ads
  • TV and radio recruitment ads
  • By word-of-mouth, via physician referrals and through patient advocacy groups
  • Digital media and online campaigns, for example on search engines and social media platforms

Recently, the use of online advertising has exploded, and clinical researchers and sponsors have begun to adopt tactics used in digital marketing to increase trial exposure and improve enrollment. Search engines and social media platforms, most notably Facebook and Google Ads, are among the most popular online clinical trial advertisement strategies used.

There are also trial aggregators, like, that can be used to find clinical trials, although this site is notoriously dense and difficult to navigate for patients. At Power, we have addressed this issue by developing an intuitive, transparent, user-friendly platform that offers numerous benefits for sponsors, while also acting as a highly functional clinical trial locator/search engine for prospective participants.

Despite the numerous advertising methods available for sponsors, the stage of patient recruitment and enrollment still poses a significant challenge and tends to be a principal source of delay and monetary loss. We have compiled this article as a general guideline of best practices in clinical trial advertising - whether through digital or physical methods - which we hope will help clinical trial sponsors and sites increase outreach and reach accrual targets on time. For a deeper exploration of clinical trial marketing in general, you can have a look at our related article.

Clinical trial advertising guidelines: 10 powerful clinical research advertisement practices

Here, we have synthesized a concise list of ten insightful and actionable tips for creating a highly effective clinical trial advertisement; in most cases, these tips can be applied to any advertising method you see fit to use for your trial.

Broadly, the following tips can be conceptualized as best practices for maximizing the power of your outreach efforts to capture the attention of eligible, high-interest candidates and convert them to consented participants.

1. Outsource or hire a professional

If you are just beginning your recruitment advertising journey, you might consider hiring a professional or outsourcing your marketing needs to someone (or an agency) that specializes in clinical trial advertising - or even digital marketing in general. With this strategy, there is significant potential to maximize the efficacy of your ads by leveraging the knowledge of a professional with extensive experience in the matter, but it also frees up valuable time and resources for you to focus on core study operations. Even organizations with decent experience developing recruitment campaigns might still benefit from working with an external professional, who will bring a unique perspective to the table and may have useful insights regarding how to improve current practices and workflows.

The rest of the guidelines that follow assume you are opting to undertake the outreach and advertising efforts internally, or in collaboration with an external expert.

2. Speak to patients’ needs and motivations

Effective ads resonate with potential participants and encourage them to participate in clinical research by speaking to their needs, desires, motivations, and/or emotions. In other words, they should be relevant to the target population. Some of the main motivations for participating in clinical trials include:

  • The desire to find a cure for or alleviate symptoms of their condition
  • Desire to find an alternative to currently available treatments that are not working or that have unacceptable side effects
  • The desire to help a loved one or others in the patient population
  • The desire to help society at large or perform a selfless act for the greater good; i.e., altruistic motivations

In terms of emotional responses, ads may catch viewers’ attention by demonstrating that they understand what patients with the condition may be going through on a personal level and on a daily basis. In other words, try to empathize with the challenges that the condition presents for those that live with it. This mindset will also help you connect with the patient population in general and is useful for the design of patient-centric trials.

When creating recruitment ads and outreach content, keep the patient’s perspective in mind and ask, “Why would this person go out of their way or care to participate?”

3. Select carefully: Choose images that resonate

Images play a central role in advertising. Not only are they one of the main visual features likely to capture a viewer’s conscious attention, but they can also provide subtle subconscious cues that can hint to your understanding of their condition, strike an emotional response, and guide the viewers’ eyes to the relevant text or call-to-action.

A strong clinical trial advertisement should appropriately reflect any predominant characteristics of the target population, if there are any. For example, if the condition disproportionately affects people of a certain ethnic group, age, or sex, it is important to reflect that in the image(s) included in your ad. This is a simple way to express the fact that you understand your patient population, and the sense of familiarity makes viewers feel more comfortable.

Be aware of cultural differences if you are conducting international studies; it is vital that the images are culturally appropriate and non-offensive.

4. Prioritize clarity and conciseness

One of the most important features of an effective recruitment ad is being clear and concise. Patients should have all of the information they need to make a preliminary judgment about whether or not the trial may be right for them, but importantly, this information needs to be understandable by someone without specialized medical knowledge. Use layman’s terminology, i.e., simplified language. If you need help with this, there is a great resource compiling simplified versions of common medical terminology. If they need to look-up terms to understand what is written on the ad, it adds another roadblock that could deter them from moving through the recruitment process. You also run the risk of them feeling like they are getting “in over their head” or that they aren’t intelligent enough to participate, both of which are not true but which could deter participation.

Aim to convey the main points in the simplest language and with as few words as possible. Consider asking: “Can I read the entire advertisement, understand what the study requires, who is eligible, and what to do next, all in 30 seconds or less?”

5. Highlight the potential benefits of participation

It is against regulatory guidelines to highlight monetary compensation (i.e., in text that is bolded, colored differently, or larger), to promise personal benefit, or refer to the trial as “free treatment.” Nonetheless, recruitment ads can still allude to more realistic benefits of participating, such as helping others and helping the researchers find better treatments. Recall the motivations mentioned in point #2, and leverage these to appeal to a sense of volunteerism and altruism.

If your trial offers monetary compensation, this should indeed be mentioned in the ad as it can also be a motivating factor. It just can’t be made to stand out amidst the other text.

6. Empower patients with sufficient information to make their own decisions

A clinical trial advertisement should be clear and transparent about the purpose of the study, the eligibility (inclusion/exclusion) criteria, and what is expected of the participants. Patients should feel sufficiently informed and empowered to make an initial decision about their eligibility without needing to ask further questions or follow-up with researchers. Naturally, some patients may have further questions even with excellent and comprehensive ads - this is to be expected. However, you should not be receiving queries from every interested prospect, or repeated questions about the same concept; if that is the case, consider changing to a different version of the ad to explicitly include that missing information.

When this practice is followed well, not only do patients feel more empowered to make their own decisions, but it also reduces the time spent screening ineligible patients and the screen failure rate. Put yourself in a potential participant’s shoes and read the different versions of your ads* as though you had no prior knowledge of the trial. See if you can readily answer:

  • Who can participate, and who cannot?
  • What is the purpose/objective of the study?
  • What does participation require of the patient?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • What are the next steps to follow if I am interested?

* Remember, best practice includes making numerous versions of ads and ad copy in order to have readily swappable versions that have already obtained IRB approval!

7. Stand out: Use graphic design tactics to make it visually appealing

The average person is exposed to an increasingly absurd number of advertisements per day. With limited space - both in terms of physical and digital ad spaces as well as in people’s minds and attention spans - it is important for your ad to stand out at first glance.

Giving due attention to design aspects in order to create visually appealing ads will go a long way toward helping your ad stand out amongst hundreds of other ads and increase the chances that a viewer spends that extra time to read the information presented about your clinical study. For some simple yet practical and effective tips straight from the world of graphic design, refer to this design guide published by the University of North Carolina’s Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute.

8. Target intelligently

Many digital platforms, such as Facebook and Google, have their own set of unique and strict restrictions regarding targeted ads and healthcare/medical ads. Clinical trial recruitment ads are subject to these regulations, and those that don’t comply will not be published, which translates to wasted time, re-designs, and re-approvals. In extreme cases, attempting to publish content that does not adhere to guidelines could get your account or organization banned from that platform. Luckily, there are still effective ways to reach your patient population without violating any of these guidelines. For specific considerations to keep in mind for different platforms, have a look at our articles dedicated to clinical trial advertising on social media in general, Facebook and Google.

Since it’s not allowed to target users based on sensitive health information, the best way to target your desired patient population is to create clever ads that speak uniquely to aspects of your patients’ lives, their needs, and their emotions. You can consider reaching out to patient advocacy organizations (PAO), which can provide helpful insights into what it’s like to live with the given condition, where and how patients seek for more information or support about their condition, and how they speak about it. This will help you design ads that are “naturally targeted,” but there is an added bonus to establishing your organization as a trusted member of the community, and the PAO may even offer to diffuse information about your study if they deem it to be potentially beneficial to their community members.

There are also other ways that ads can still be refined and targeted, such as by demographic location or interests that fall outside of the category of sensitive/health information.

9. Be aware of misperceptions and challenges, and emphasize how your trial addresses and mitigates them

There are several challenges and burdens patients commonly face when participating in clinical research, including time and travel inconveniences as well as complex protocols and procedures that are difficult to manage and/or comprehend. Further, clinical research is unfortunately still the object of some common yet untrue misconceptions, for example that trial participants are treated like guinea pigs or that drug developers don’t care about patient health and well-being. Such misconceptions may be especially prominent in minority and under-represented communities/groups that have traditionally had poor access to clinical studies and/or medical care in general.

Given these potential challenges,, consider using your ad to explicitly address how your trial differs from these false images or addresses these misconceptions and concerns. Consider highlighting patient-centric aspects of your trial design that make it comfortable and enjoyable for participants, such as remote data collection and home visits. Expressing sincere gratitude to patients for their involvement can help overcome potential resistance, fostering trust and increasing your enrollment success. These actions will have repercussions throughout the community which have the potential to slowly but surely improve perceptions about clinical research participation, especially as the industry makes deliberate efforts to increase diversity in trial populations.

10. Include a clear call-to-action, and focus on conversions

A carefully crafted, expertly designed, visually appealing, transparent clinical trial advertisement still does not bring you value if it doesn’t convert viewers into consenting participants. Ads need to contain clear directions regarding how to proceed/what to do next. Known as a “call-to-action,” this portion of the ads explicitly instructs viewers what to do next if they are interested in enrolling. The call-to-action deserves special attention and is a vital element in your clinical trial advertisement. It should stand out as a call-to-action, and should provide various options in a clear manner - i.e., a telephone number, a QR code, and a dedicated “landing page” with a simplified (easy to copy) website address/URL.

Relatedly, it is important to monitor the effectiveness of the ad and the progress of the campaign using relevant metrics. So-called “vanity metrics,” such as total views or time spent on the ad, can be misleading if the ad is not leading to follow-through actions, i.e., conversions to consented participants. Measure indicators that give you useful and actionable insights, such as what percentage of viewers respond to the call-to-action or on which platform(s) the ad is being seen the most. Set specific, quantitative targets, and when the performance metrics are falling short of expectations, swap the ad for another version until performance improves.


We hope that this article has provided you with a solid foundation for designing your next clinical trial advertisement and outreach campaign. With these powerful conceptual strategies in mind, you should be able to make improvements that lead to practical results - improved enrollment numbers and accrual rates - and help get your trial up and running faster with minimal losses and delays.

For supplementary information that synergizes with this content, consider reading through our how-to guide to clinical trial marketing, which outlines a framework for actually designing, launching, and monitoring the clinical trial advertisement campaign.