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Pharma bucks trend, shunning digital and sticking with TV when it comes to ads

Pharma is bucking the trend that is seeing most other sectors rush to digital advertising, instead deciding to stick with TV ads. That’s according to a new report out by MediaRadar that reveals pharma’s drug ad spending habits.

While most advertisers are shifting their ad dollars to the digital space, pharma isn’t following that trajectory. Instead, the MediaRadar report said that when it comes to pharma advertisers, “most of them are sticking to what they know best: TV spots.”

The report found that for pharma, not only does TV remain king in terms of media choice but also “digital spending lagged considerably.” What’s more, we can expect that focus on TV advertising to continue.

In 2021, TV spots accounted for more than 70% of total spending, increasing 3% from 2020 to hit $5 billion. Digital and print advertising were at $1 billion apiece, staying flat on the year before.

Yet, the HIV/AIDS category strayed from this trend and saw an increase in digital spending to 28%, up from 12% the year before, while other therapy areas were allocated between 5% and 16% for digital advertising. In situations where companies are spending on digital, the report notes that video is the medium of choice, increasing 32% from 2020, with an astonishing 99.5% of that going to YouTube.

Overall spending in 2021 was up only 1% compared to 2020 for a total of $7 billion across TV, digital and print advertising.

But the report notes that the pandemic affected this overall spend and comes after a major 32% jump in spending in 2018 over 2017 to hit $6.6 billion. While the next few years saw more modest growth, despite the pandemic, spending isn’t going down but instead remaining at a high level.

And while HIV looks to be an area where pharma is increasing it digital ad presence, the therapy area marks only 9% (or $390 million) of total ad spend for various therapeutic areas. Last year, pharma spent most of its ad budget on diabetes, psoriasis and arthritis.

Diabetes, accounting for 12% of the total, is not surprising given that patients have more control over their choice of medicine, and therefore there is more opportunity for marketers to convince patients to switch.

It’s also a highly competitive market, with a host of new drugs like Rybelsus and Ozempic from Novo Nordisk, Trulicity from Lilly and AstraZeneca’s Farxiga all bringing in blockbuster sales.

Those companies are also now looking to expand those drugs beyond simply lowering blood sugar levels and hope to add new labels to help lower the risk of other conditions like heart and kidney disease, which will further boost sales.

While diabetes was on the top, psoriasis was a close second, with 10% of all pharma’s ad spending last year, and arthritis was on its heels at 9%. This again is no surprise given the huge immunology market drugs like AbbVie’s blockbusters Humira, Skyrizi and Rinvoq as well as J&J’s Stelara and Tremfya belong to.