No peak in sight: Cancer marketing spreads across media landscape, from TV to digital

New drug launches usually mean new ad campaigns, and right now cancer therapies are at the epicenter.

The move to mainstream cancer advertising began several years ago with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s big TV campaign for Opdivo, followed by competitor Merck & Co. for its rival, Keytruda. Both put out broad and hopeful messages about their lung cancer immunotherapies. Next to the viewing audience was Pfizer's breast cancer kinase inhibitor Ibrance, and just this year, Eli Lilly followed with its metastatic breast cancer therapy Verzenio. And that’s just national TV ads for cancer drugs.

Syneos Health tallied cancer DTC ad spending this summer and found that for 2017, the $497 million spent on oncology consumer ads was more than six times what was spent on total cancer DTC ads over a previous seven-year period, from 2008-2014.

Take into account the smaller—but myriad and multiplying—digital efforts by cancer drugmakers, such as Halaven maker Eisai’s digital story-sharing campaign for metastatic breast cancer or AstraZeneca’s social media push for lung cancer specialist Tagrisso, and it’s not hard to imagine those numbers to chart another hockey-stick leap upward.

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Up ahead, digital marketing is likely where we'll see the strongest growth. Not only are some of today's cancer drugs more specialized—such as recent approvals for Gilead Sciences, Eli Lilly, Tesaro and Clovis—but smaller budgets are demanding more targeted and focused efforts at lower price points than traditional TV or print.

Overall, expect a general surge in advertising and marketing in the field. The cancer immunotherapy market is set to go from its current $33 billion in sales to more than $103 billion by 2024, according to GBI Research. By its count, there are more than 3,800 drugs in the pipeline with the majority (62%) still in early stages.

Messaging may evolve as marketing spreads to diverse media and more targeted drugs get into the game. Ads aimed to niche groups of doctors or patients who might use the more specialized cancer treatments will have a more personalized tone than mainstream ads meant to appeal to mass audiences. The big drug brands with lots of FDA-approved indications will likely continue to rule mainstream media, while those with fewer indications will turn to digital, professional and advocacy groups to get noticed.