Pharma ads at the Winter Olympics: 15 brands, but midpack finish for spending share

Winter Olympics
Pharma ads finished in the middle of the pack of all Winter Olympics advertisers, with 15 drug brands appearing. (Image: NBC Sports)

Pharma ads skated into the Winter Olympics along with dozens of consumer brand ads, and although they weren’t in any medal contention for time and attention, the category had a respectable showing.

Fifteen prescription drug brand ads ran 221 times on national TV during the February run of the PyeongChang games on NBC, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker iSpot.tv. In terms of spend, prescription drug ads represented a 4.1% Spend Share of Voice for all ads that ran during the Olympic ad-tracking period from Feb. 1 to Feb. 26, iSpot reported.

iSpot is not releasing specific advertising spending categories or overall TV spending figures for the Winter Olympics, but in early February, NBC released a statement saying it had surpassed $900 million in national ad sales for the PyeongChang Olympics, a Winter Games record.

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The top three pharma ads came from Merck and Pfizer, with one from Merck and two from Pfizer. Merck spent $11.3 million on cancer drug Keytruda and a commercial that chronicles the journey of real-life patient Donna, according to iSpot.tv. That ad, the company's first real patient TV ad for Keytruda, has been running since September, and Merck has spent more than $76 million in national ad runs to date, according to iSpot data.

Meanwhile, Pfizer at the Olympics spent $10.9 million on commercials for its metastatic breast cancer treatment Ibrance and another $8.3 million on a Xeljanz XR spot for its rheumatoid arthritis indication.

RELATED: Going for emotion: Pharma takes a page from consumer marketers for Olympic ads

Overall, drug company advertising frequency and share of spend at the Winter Games paled in comparison to top category advertisers such as auto brands and mobile electronics, but pharma did come in around the same spending share levels as other mid-level categories, such as retail stores and travel category brands.