NFL season sees Pfizer kick off major Comirnaty COVID vaccine ad offensive for teens, boosters

Pfizer has been using a softly, softly approach when it comes to promoting its COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty. But as the NFL season kicked off this month, the Big Pharma’s marketing strategy is going the extra yard.

That’s according to data and analysis shared with Fierce Pharma Marketing by real-time ad tracker These data find that since Aug. 22, ads for Comirnaty have aired 749 times on national linear TV, with a particular emphasis on NFL games, which started Sept. 9.

In fact, almost 30% of Comirnaty TV ad impressions appeared during NFL games, and more than 63% of national TV ad spend for the brand was allocated toward the NFL, according to iSpot's analysis.

“On the NFL end, Comirnaty is also pretty visible, as one of the 30 most-seen advertisers over the first two weeks of the regular season,” an analyst from iSpot told Fierce Pharma Marketing. “It’s by far the most-seen pharma spot during NFL games.”

There are only four prescription medicine brands appearing during NFL games so far this season. Besides Comirnaty, the other three are Bristol Myers Squibb’s blockbuster cancer drug Opdivo and its autoimmune med Zeposia as well as AstraZeneca’s diabetes drug Farxiga.

But iSpot’s data show that Comirnaty as a brand is “significantly higher than the rest by both spend and impressions” during NFL games. Its estimated spend is $9.5 million with 31 airings, nearly double its nearest rival in Opdivo, which had an estimated TV spend of just over $5.1 million with 10 airings.

This comes as sales of Pfizer’s vaccine, which soared to a major $36 billion last year, are expected to slow down in 2022 and beyond, given that the immediate threat of pandemic COVID is, according to U.S. President Joe Biden, now “over” and fewer people are getting a vaccine.

Pfizer is, however, now gearing up for COVID booster season alongside rival Moderna. Both nabbed FDA authorizations for their respective variant-specific shots last month.

The new Comirnaty ads and the ramping up of its marketing spend for the NFL season mark a notable change for Pfizer.

The DTC ad work for the vaccine began last December, well after Pfizer won its first Comirnaty full approval in August 2021. Companies aren't allowed to do any DTC marketing for products under emergency authorization, but that all changes with full approval. 

Nonetheless, Pfizer's first TV spot, called “Remarkable,” did not mention Comirnaty by name nor did it talk about vaccinations broadly or even the COVID-19 pandemic specifically. Instead, the campaign focused on how society was yearning to get back to normal and how that drove Pfizer's mission.

The second ad, “Don’t miss your shot,” was a little more direct but not by much. It came shortly after "Remarkable" in December 2021 and once again did not showcase Comirnaty nor mention COVID. It did, however, talk up the availability of vaccines and portray the importance of not missing your opportunity to get your shot.

But the branding strategy has changed over Pfizer's two latest TV ads. Launched a month ago, on Aug. 22, and called “Hard on everyone,” the 60-second spot followed Pfizer's July full approval for Comirnaty in teens. For the first time, the Big Pharma takes a directly branded approach that it didn’t in earlier commercials.

Pfizer talks up how the last two years of COVID have been tough and has a specific focus on teens. It directly says in the ad that there is a vaccine for 12- to 15-years-olds and mentions Comirnaty by name at the end of the spot.  

And, in the main ad used for the NFL spots, “More,” launched Sept. 8, a narrator tells the story, in rhyme, about the “normal” things that happen in everyday life with the tagline, “the more you want to do, the more we want to do.”

This is a specific plug for Pfizer’s new COVID boosters. The Comirnaty name isn’t used in the ad itself, but logos for Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are shown at the end of the spot, and there's a clear message for people to get their COVID booster shots this fall and winter.

There is a slight marketing issue for Pfizer when it comes to the Comirnaty name and its new booster. This bivalent booster has an emergency use authorization but not full FDA approval and therefore has limits on how it can be marketed. Also, its official title is Pfizer-BioNTech omicron BA.4/BA.5 COVID-19 bivalent vaccine.

That may explain why it is not using Comirnaty in its booster DTCs, but it is cropping up in another ad.