As Bernie predicted, PhRMA, BIO and Big Pharma aired ads during debate programming

Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders used his trademark fiery rhetoric on healthcare and pharma advertisers during the Dem 2020 candidates debate. (Gage Skidmore)

During the second Democratic 2020 candidate debate last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders predicted healthcare industry ads during CNN commercial breaks. He wasn’t wrong.

Pharmaceutical trade group PhRMA bought two TV spots each night on CNN during the Tuesday and Wednesday debates, although no pharmaceutical companies advertised their own brands during the two programs.

During the CNN preview show, the biotech trade association BIO bought one spot each night. Pharma companies that also ran ads during CNN preview and post-analysis coverage included Celgene for Otezla and Allergan for CoolSculpting, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker iSpot.tv.

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The PhRMA commercial that ran during both debates has aired since February as part of its “Go Boldly” campaign. It centers on the researchers at biopharma companies who work to fight disease, noting “because it’s not just about the next breakthrough, it’s all the ones after that.”

CNN had reportedly asked for a commitment from debate advertisers of at least $300,000, with a single 30-second spot estimated at $110,000, Variety reported, calling the price tag “exponentially high.” However, ads that ran before and after the event on CNN cost substantially less, and were more in line with CNN’s regular pricing in the single-digit thousands for 30 seconds of time.

It was ads put up by a pharma and health lobbying coalition, which ran in the preview and post-analysis shows on CNN, that sparked ire on social media among supporters of Sanders and Medicare for All plans.

The ad from the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF)—which counts PhRMA and BIO as members along with insurer, medical and hospital groups—features four average-looking Americans who “come from all walks of life.” They do agree on one thing, they say: “We don’t want to be forced into a one-size-fits-all government insurance system.”

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PAHCF pinned the ad to the top of its Twitter account, even though it is highly unpopular among commenters there. Of the 365 comments on the pinned version, more than a few use profanities against it, while others call out the ad as a “lie” or “propaganda.”

But how did Sanders come to predict that industry ads would run while in mid-TV debate?

During the healthcare part of the debate, Sanders accused CNN moderator Jake Tapper of using a “Republican talking point” after Tapper asked each candidate whether they would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for proposed healthcare plans. Sanders added, “And by the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight on this program. They will be advertising tonight with that talking point.”

Social media commenters on Facebook and Twitter, including actor John Cusack who has endorsed Sanders, then picked up on Sanders' prescient remark.

 

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