ASCO or AdCo? Advertising splashes all over meeting, but attendees mostly blasé

ASCO 2019 sign outside McCormick Place
Pharma ads proliferated again around the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, from airport to bus shelters, but this year's attendees weren't fazed. (Amirah Al Idrus)

It’s an American Society for Clinical Oncology annual meeting tradition for attendees to complain about the advertising that follows them from the airport to the cab ride to the McCormick Place conference site. But this year’s crop of ads mostly garnered shrugs and triggered very little social media commentary.

Clay Siegall, CEO of Seattle Genetics, said he noticed ads around the city at bus stops and on buildings and some at the airport, but he didn’t think it was excessive.

“It wasn’t so much it bothered me. I would not want it to be a lot more, but it wasn’t offensive,” he said.

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Roy Baynes, Merck senior vice president and head of global clinical development, agreed; in fact, he said the ads are just fine. “The breadth and depth of the company advertising around the cities and on public transport and on airports that’s waxed and waned over the years—the same issue was debated hotly," Baynes noted.

"I think it’s fine," he added. "I think anything that increases awareness of important science is valuable.”

On social media, there were few criticisms and even some kudos. Invitae's digital marketing lead Adam Singer posted images from his company's campaign around Chicago on Twitter and drew congrats instead of complaints.

RELATED: ASCO's hot marketing topics: Real-world data, competition and differentiation, analyst says

As for the promos within McCormick Place itself, it was pretty much business as usual. While ASCO is still wrapping up its final ad revenue figures, a spokesperson said via email, “In general, we are seeing a strong and growing interest in the Annual Meeting in terms of registrations and exhibits and that sponsorships and advertising remain fairly consistent with last year.”

The annual meeting’s media kit details some of the specific pricing—for example, exclusive branding on wraparound coffee cup sleeves and napkins at the convention center concession stand—excluding McDonald’s and Starbucks—cost $125,000 for 30,000 sleeves and 100,000 napkins.

To put a brand on all the key card sleeves at the 26 convention hotels was $175,000 for a 100% exclusive Friday-Tuesday placement. Digital advertising on the main Conquer Cancer Foundation Video Wall ran $50,000 for 30-second ads with a 15-minute frequency.

ASCO is not responsible for airport advertising rates, of course, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport doesn’t list its prices online. However, Clear Channel Communications has 28 different billboards around town that list from around $14,000 up to $89,000 for four weeks.

RELATED: AstraZeneca’s ASCO pledge? Be a better social media citizen

While that all adds up to an important chunk of change for the venues, the been-there-done-that attendees were okay with it this year.

“Maybe I’m a little numb to it,” said ZS analyst and principal Jon Roffman. “I’ve seen it in past years and know now that the first billboard I see coming in from the airport is going to be for a cancer drug.

"I do wonder what do random people think who don’t work in this industry and know nothing about ASCO and then see the first five ads at the airport are all for cancer drugs.”

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