TikTok earned over $14 million this year for ads from Cerebral, a medical startup currently under investigation for allegedly overprescribing stimulants. The company garnered over 1.4 billion impressions on these ads, including on those encouraging the use of stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
This latest analysis is based on data from Pathmatics, a company that tracks digital marketing data and captures ads appearing in TikTok’s For You tab, and it reveals the extent to which the platform has benefited from Cerebral and boosted its exposure. So far this year, Cerebral is the top telehealth advertiser on TikTok and the third highest overall advertiser -- just under Amazon and HBO -- and between January 1 and May 22, the company spent over $14.2 million on TikTok ads, racking up over 1.4 billion impressions. (Pathmatics defines an impression as the “number of times a particular creative is loaded on a page as estimated” by the company.)
Last week, Cerebral replaced its CEO Kyle Robertson amid controversy, as the company is under a Department of Justice investigation for possible violations of controlled substances law and is reportedly also being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In response, Robertson released a memo claiming that Cerebral’s board of directors encouraged the company to prescribe Adderall, a drug commonly used to treat ADHD, and that his successor “discussed how we need to prescribe more” and talked about what to do with “underprescribers.”
Other similar allegations have been made against the company. In late April, a former vice president at Cerebral filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired for complaining about intentional overprescription of stimulants. After the lawsuit was filed, Cerebral stopped giving prescriptions of controlled substances like Adderall and Xanax to new patients. Additionally, some Walmart and CVS pharmacies “blocked or delayed” prescriptions from clinicians working for Cerebral and another telehealth startup amid concerns about perceived overprescription of Adderall and other stimulants -- with Walmart and CVS fully blocking controlled substance prescriptions from both companies this week.
Despite these allegations and investigations, TikTok is still allowing Cerebral to advertise on its platform. Between April 27 (the day the former executive filed the lawsuit alleging intentional overprescription) and May 22, TikTok earned about $1.6 million for ads from the company.
Cerebral’s TikTok advertisements are geared toward young users and intentionally oversimplify the complex diagnosis of ADHD in order to persuade users to pursue an expedited diagnosis.
It’s clear that TikTok continues to prioritize profit over the safety of its young users, and the carelessness with which TikTok has handled Cerebral is a testament to that problem.