Patients are glued to iPhones and tablets, but pharma ads stick to TV

Direct-to-consumer advertising ticked upward last year, to just shy of $3.8 billion. Pharma's TV advertising was up, too, by 12.7%. Magazines also got a nice increase, at 6.6% higher than in 2012. Even radio captured some pharma ad growth.

But digital advertising? Pharma spent even less online last year than in 2012, and the online share of DTC was already small to begin with.

As Medical Marketing & Media reports, pharma's Internet ad spending dropped by 14.4% in 2013, to $59.8 million. Pfizer ($PFE), the biggest overall ad and digital spender, only allocated 2.5% of its spending toward digital ads, and other top DTC spenders like AbbVie ($ABBV) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) put less than 1% of their budgets into digital.

The drop in digital DTC spending could reflect pharma's continual anxiety about regulatory action, or its desire to play it safe, say industry analysts. Sticking with familiar outlets like print and television could make the most sense in terms of ad dollars and time.

But the shift in spending to television could also be attributed to the improvements in cable programming. Pharma advertisers are trying to reach the biggest audience possible, and as more people tune into the latest episode of "Breaking Bad" or "The Walking Dead," value ad dollars can be made.

"These networks are offering unique opportunities to target viewers in an environment where they're receptive," said Brad Adgate, SVP of research at Horizon Media (as quoted by MM&M). Plus, specialized cable networks give drugmakers the opportunity to target niche audiences.

But while companies are still shying away from digital DTC spending, as drugmakers continue to zero in on relationships with patients, the smartphone-and-tablet route may be the way to go. "The biggest statement on DTC is that we're still misaligned with where people are needing our information," A.J. Triano, VP of connected health at inVentiv Health's Palio+Ignite, told the magazine. "We're drastically overspending on print and TV, and underutilizing the mediums where people are looking and paying attention." 

- read the MM&M article

Special Reports: Top 10 DTC Pharma Advertisers | Top 10 Pharma Advertising Budgets - 2012