The top 10 advertisers in Big Pharma

While the list of the top spending DTC ad spenders changes every year, there are always a few certainties and a few surprises.

  • Certainty #1: Pfizer ($PFE) will be at the top of the DTC chart and they'll buy a lot of TV ads.
  • Surprise #1: This year, for the first time, it spent more than $1 billion on those ads.
  • Certainty #2: As the result of a blockbuster push, one (or more) smaller pharmaceutical company will come from nowhere and end up as a guest on the annual list.
  • Surprise #2: This year it was Sumitomo, which blew through almost $180 million pushing Latuda, its antipsychotic recently approved for bipolar depression.
  • Certainty #3: Complaints about specific prescription medicine advertising, especially TV commercials, will surface every year.
  • Surprise #3: Actually, no surprise there.

Pfizer of course wasn't the only one buying TV time. Television is by far the most popular medium for DTC prescription drug advertising. It accounted for more than 70% of total spending from the top 10 pharma company dollars spent on advertising, or about $2.44 billion out of $3.4 billion, according to data supplied by Nielsen. Spending by all pharma companies was on an upswing in 2014, topping $4.5 billion, according to Nielsen data, which was an increase of 18% over the $3.8 billion spent in 2013.

Some of the reasons for the reliance on TV are valid. Nielsen research shows that TV viewers skew older and many of pharma's targeted customers are older, so it makes sense to put the ads for those products in front of the audience they're trying to reach. Mass audiences are also needed sometimes to build name and brand recognition for new drugs.

However, pharma companies have also been criticized for slower uptake of new marketing methods such as digital, social media and mobile. It's a mindset shift from one-way communications to interactive or two-way conversations that has yet to take place. In the meantime, expect TV to dominate, evidenced by the top 10 presented here. -- Beth Snyder Bulik (email)

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