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Why Pharma TV Advertising Is So Influential

December 18th, 2019   ||    by David Bloom

It’s possible you’ve seen more than a few examples of pharmaceutical ads while flipping channels. Why? Pharma TV advertising works. More importantly, the pharma industry knows it and trusts the approach to keep delivering.

But getting drug commercials to air is anything but simple. According to GoodRx, the sector has been regulated for nearly four decades by the Food and Drug Administration, which places increasingly complex limits on what can and must be said in various kinds of pharma TV advertising. Nonetheless, the sector continues to blossom amid a shifting advertising landscape.

Total nominal US spending on medicines in 2018 topped $482 billion, according to Statista, while the industry’s direct-to-consumer media spending surpassed $5 billion in 2017.

New Kinds of Drug Ads

The kinds of ads aired are shifting, from purely information-driven content to ones that emphasize lifestyle improvements. These ads often use compelling before-and-after imagery that subtly attributes improvements to the drugs being discussed. That approach has led to criticism that the new ads create unrealistic expectations.

“Everyone on the ads appears healthy, happy, dancing, and they get better,” Dr. Andy Lazris, a Maryland internist and geriatrician, told “So people are led to believe a) the drug will be effective (which is often not the case), and b) that they should replace their old therapy with the newer one because it’s better (again, which is often not the case).”

Between 2012 and 2017, according to a study by Kantar Media in Pharmaceutical Commerce, direct-to-consumer spending by pharmaceutical companies increased 62 percent. At the same time overall spending grew, so did the number of major campaigns. Kantar said the number of drug brands with marketing budgets of at least $50 million in annual spending nearly doubled between 2012 and 2015.

Big Drug Marketing Campaigns Look to TV

TV networks continue to get a hefty share of pharma advertising because the platform has a long track record of success and a comforting familiarity.

“Pharmas do rely heavily on this tried and true formula of sales reps and TV ads because it works,” Matthew Arnold, a principal analyst at Decision Resources Group, told Pharmaceutical Commerce. “There is a real culture of ‘if it ain’t it broke, don’t fix it,’ among pharmaceutical marketers. They feel their jobs are already complicated enough. And to be fair, it is an incredibly complicated job.”

Broadcast primetime audiences tend to be older, ailing, and open to these kinds of ads.

“The drug companies aren’t generally marketing to people in their 30s; they’re marketing to the 65-plus, and that’s the population that tends to still be watching television,” Allen Adamson, a brand strategy consultant, told The New York Times.

And if the viewers are dealing with health issues, they’re more likely to need pharmaceuticals of all kinds, and they’re more likely to be watching television instead of engaging in some other activity. That makes them more valuable as an audience to pharma companies, according to Kantar’s Chief Revenue Officer Jon Swallen.

“They are more likely to be proactive about their health, trust pharmaceutical marketers more, pay more for branded medications and take action after seeing healthcare advertising,” Swallen said.

That’s a pretty good description of a perfect target audience.

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