Pharma party: Led by Pfizer, DTC ads proliferate during Democratic and Republican national conventions

Big Pharma’s platform for the Republican and Democratic national conventions? Lots of TV ads.

The Democratic convention's TV coverage logged 78 pharma ads from 16 brands, versus 48 pharma ads from 15 brands that aired during Republican convention TV coverage, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker It tracked ABC, CBS and NBC network ads and CNN, MSNBC and Fox Business cable ads for both conventions. Between the two events, Pfizer led the way.

The pharma ad shown most often during both conventions’ network TV coverage across ABC, CBS and NBC was the New York company's recently debuted corporate commercial about the drug development process, from idea to medicine. Dubbed, “Before it Became a Medicine,” the spot ran six times during Democratic convention network coverage, tying with for most overall airings. The Pfizer corporate ad ran five times during Republican Convention network coverage and was the most-often aired ad among all brands during network coverage.

The remaining drug ads during both conventions were for specific brands, with the exception of Vanda Pharmaceutical's disease awareness push for Non-24 circadian rhythm disorder. Most of the branded work aired on cable, which is generally a less expensive media buy when compared with network. 

Only three pharma brands' ads--along with the Pfizer and Vanda ads--ran during network coverage of the conventions. During RNC event coverage, Novartis aired an ad for heart failure drug Entresto three times, and GlaxoSmithKline showed one ad for its respiratory treatment Breo. During the DNC event, commercials for Sanofi’s diabetes med Toujeo and GSK’s Breo each ran one time on network TV, according to the iSpot data.

In contrast, many drug brands had ads on cable. During the Republican Convention, 10 pharma ads ran on CNN, seven ran on MSNBC and four ran on Fox Business. During the Democratic Convention, 10 ran on CNN, eight ran on MSNBC and one ran on Fox Business.

While the number of ads run on cable stations was similar between the two conventions, some of the brands differed. For instance, while Eli Lilly’s erectile dysfunction treatment Cialis had ads during both conventions' broadcasts, the ad for Pfizer’s ED competitor Viagra only ran during the Democratic event. AstraZeneca's ad for respiratory drug Symbicort also only saw airtime during the Democratic Convention.

Ads running only during the Republican Convention included Vanda's Non-24 awareness ad, two for J&J's diabetes treatment Invokana and anti-inflammatory med Stelara, and two for Pfizer's smoking cessation drug Chantix and pain and anti-seizure med Lyrica.

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