As the pharma pipeline flows, so does pharma marketing. That's the moral of a new surge in direct-to-consumer ad spending. Last year, the FDA approved 41 brand-new drugs, a record-breaking figure. And as Advertising Age reports, after some long, dry years when DTC spending sunk to new lows, the pharma category is coming back on tap.
Here at the beginning of 2015, drugmakers are launching promising new products, and they're backing up their other recent launches; though only 27 new meds won FDA approval in 2013, almost half of them were deemed potential blockbusters. Drugmakers have promised investors their new meds will grow them out of the patent cliff slump, and that means investing in consumer marketing, particularly with primary-care drugs such as the brand-new SGLT-2 diabetes meds, including AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Farxiga and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Invokana.
So, some Big Pharmas are plowing money into DTC and sales reps--in AstraZeneca's case, enough to bump up the SG&A line appreciably. Smaller drugmakers with designs on the top 10--think Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX), for one--are doing the same. Other companies in competitive fields--such as obesity meds--are rolling out DTC ads and staffing up to support those campaigns, hoping to grab market share as quickly as possible.
No one is more excited about this than ad agencies, PR shops and media buyers, some of whom had taken to calling the drought "pharmageddon." Edelman's health business saw a 20% increase in the year ended last June. And Interpublic CEO Michael Roth said healthcare is now his company's fastest-growing area, with a 13% year-over-year leap, Ad Age notes.
"The pharma industry is roaring back from pharmageddon," Kym White, global sector chair of Edelman's health business, said, as quoted by Ad Age.
Consider the DTC campaigns of 2014. Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer ($PFE) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) each rolled out print and TV ad for their anticoagulant drugs, which are fighting head-to-head-to-head for share in the warfarin-alternative market. Or AstraZeneca's Farxiga push, aimed at differentiating that drug from J&J's Invokana (which of course has a DTC campaign of its own). Or Astellas and its animated bladder, touting the new overactive bladder drug Myrbetriq.
But also consider less traditional projects, such as Novartis' ($NVS) Gilenya Go Program, designed to keep patients on their meds, or the Swiss drugmaker's "Live Like You" initiative, which used wearable trackers and social media to connect multiple sclerosis patients to one another (and to the company, of course). Or Sanofi's ($SNY) diabetes-focused gaming apps, the latest--Mission T1D--aimed at kids with Type 1 diabetes.
These nontraditional projects are another reason why spending is growing again. While pharma's DTC presence shrank, agencies not only turned to other healthcare clients but also built new marketing avenues, including digital and technology services. Not just digital advertising, either, but services and content, too. With drugmakers focusing more tightly on specialty drugs--which aren't necessarily DTC-friendly--relationship-building has grown more important, and that means different things for different products. If anyone has figured out a one-size-fits-all approach to that one yet, they're keeping it a secret.
- read the Ad Age story
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