Heavy Drug Ad Spending Doesn’t Pay Off

April 12, 2010

The pharmaceutical brands which spent the most money on TV advertising in 2009 did not make the biggest impression on viewers, according to data from The Nielsen Company.

Despite the recession, the top 10 prescription drug brand spenders invested $1.1 billion on national TV commercials, compared to $1 billion in 2008. The top six brands spent more than $100 million in TV advertising last year, led by cholesterol drug Lipitor. Erectile dysfunction drug Cialis by maker Eli Lilly was the second-highest spender followed by Abilify, an add-on treatment for depression from Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and Cymbalta, a drug for major depression disorder.


Top Four Most Recalled Ads Weren’t Top Spenders
Nielsen data on consumer recall of 2009 TV drug advertising indicates that the drug brands which spent the most money airing TV commercials did not get the most return on their advertising dollar. The top four most recalled ads were two spots from Flomax, a drug designed to combat urinary difficulty associated with enlarged prostate, HPV vaccine Gardasil, and anti-depressant Pristiq, a newcomer.


None of these four brands made the top 10 list for TV advertising spending last year. Erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, which was ranked number nine for TV ad spending, got its money’s worth by tying for fifth place in viewer recall with blood clot inhibitor Plavix.

In turn, Plavix, which had the fifth-highest spending total, came close to breaking even on its spending by obtaining the number six ranking for viewer recall. The only brand among the top four spenders to make the top 10 viewer recall list was Cialis, which tied for fifth place with Alzheimer’s disease drug Aricept and rheumatoid arthritis drug Orencia. No other drug brand on the top 10 list for TV ad spending in 2009 made the top 10 list for viewer recall last year.

Drug Ads Get Longer
Due to stricter Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, TV ads for prescription drugs have been getting longer in recent years, which has slowed the rate of increase in TV advertising spending by prescription drug companies. However, the prevalence of 60- and 75-second ads on the most recalled list demonstrates that a properly designed longer ad can still resonate with viewers.

Few Consumers Trust Pharmaceutical Ads
In addition to attempting to improve viewer advertising recall, pharmaceutical brands should also work on improving consumer trust, according to a recent Harris Poll. Only 18% of poll respondents 18 and up found pharmaceutical advertising most trustworthy compared to ads from four other major US industries. In contrast, 29% of all respondents 18 and up ranked pharmaceutical ads as least trustworthy.


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