Once again, Pharma beats all other industries with $1.5B in magazine ads

Doctors and politicians have targeted TV as the source of too many pharma ads, but has anyone opened a magazine lately?

Pharma spending on magazine ads jumped to more than $1.53 billion in 2015, according to data provided by Nielsen. That's an increase of 19% from $1.29 million in 2014. The prescription drug category also once again led all other ad categories when it comes to magazines--ahead of consumer categories such as fashion and skin care--and widened its lead to boot.

The second-highest spender on magazine ads was retail and online apparel at $866 million, followed by skin care creams and lotions at $386 million. Both of those categories--which were No. 2 and 3 in 2014 as well--had flat or decreased spending on magazines last year. Apparel was up by 1.4% over its $854 million total in 2014, and skin care dropped 10%, after spending $425 million in 2014.

In fact, in 2015, about 30% of all pharma ad spending was spent in magazines, far greater than the overall average of about 7%.

Magazine ad formats are a good fit for pharma, because they allow for complex explanations and lengthy disclosure statements required by regulators.

MPA CEO Linda Thomas Brooks

Pharma ads in magazines are both perusable and portable. Magazines give "consumers the information they need in a format that they are most likely to comprehend and retain, and they can bring it with them to enhance discussions with their medical providers," said Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of MPA--The Association of Magazine Media, in an email.

There is also history in pharma's affinity for magazines. When the FDA first allowed DTC ads on TV in 1997, it was with the caveat that, instead of including the entire brief summary--which wasn't very brief--required for print ads, TV ads could refer consumers to a phone number, a website, print ads and/or their physicians and pharmacists for a full list of risks and benefits. Many chose print ads, along with the now-standard "ask your doctor" mention.

Still, the close association between pharma and magazines and the significant revenue provided by pharma ads could be in jeopardy if the American Medical Association and lawmakers are successful in current efforts to limit or roll back DTC advertising.

As other major ad industry associations have recently, Brooks noted that the MPA will continue to go to bat for pharma rights in DTC advertising.

"As an industry, we will continue to advocate for the ongoing right for pharmaceutical companies to reach consumers through trusted advertising in magazine media. Direct-to-consumer advertising is an important tool for consumers, yet the ultimate decision on the appropriateness of a specific drug remains with the patient's doctor," she said.

Special Reports: The top 10 most-advertised prescription drug brands