Up up and away: 2015 pharma ad spending ties decade-old record

hot air balloons taking off at dawn

It's a tie. Pharma advertisers spent $5.4 billion in 2015, tying the previous industry record set in 2006, according to new data from Kantar Media. That's an increase of 19% over the category's $4.53 billion tally for 2014.

Kantar, which is expected to release the full data next week, prereleased the 2015 total along with the top five drug brands spending to FiercePharmaMarketing. The top five spending tracks with the overall accelerated spending trend and rose to $1.34 billion, an increase of 14% from $1.15 billion in 2014. Four of the top five drugs notched spending increases in 2015, with three leaping more than 30% year over year.

Leading the Kantar list is AbbVie's ($ABBV) blockbuster anti-inflammatory Humira with spending of more than $357 million on TV, print, radio and accumulated advertising. That's an increase of more than 37% over last year's No. 2 ad spend of $260 million. AbbVie seems determined to send the drug out with a bang as it loses patent protection later this year and soon will face biosimilar competition.

But what happened to the No. 1 drug from last year? That would be Eli Lilly's ($LLY) erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, which fell to No. 4 in the 2015 ranking on spending of $222 million, down 18% from $272 million in 2014. Category competitor Viagra from Pfizer ($PFE) was No. 4 in 2014, but didn't make the cut for top five this year, Kantar reported.

Could it be that American consumers are finally getting through to marketers regarding their distaste for ED advertising? Maybe. Or it could just be the customary ad slowdown as generics enter the picture; in Pfizer's case, a deal with Teva ($TEVA) will bring a generic version in 2017 and for Cialis, the end of its patent protection is the same year.

Also on this year's short list--which, like last year's ranking, shows shades of a last-gasp almost off-patent surge--was Pfizer's Lyrica at No. 2, with spending of $328 million in 2015, up 33% from $247 million in 2014. It's set to go off patent in 2018.

At No. 3 was Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Eliquis with spending of $249 million, up 13% from $221 million in 2014. The anticoagulant, approved by the FDA in 2012 with plenty of marketing years ahead, may be pacing itself. It was No 5 last year.

No. 5 this year was anti-inflammatory Xeljanz, another 2012 FDA approval and another one from Pfizer, with $183 million spent in 2015, up from $153 million in 2014. Expect more spending years from this brand with the recent approval of a first-to-market extended-release version, Xeljanz XR.

While Kantar declined to provide overall drug company spending, safe money would be on Pfizer remaining in the No. 1 spot. Not only does it boast three of the top 5 spending drugs for the year--just as last year--but it also has a proven spending record. Pfizer's annual outlay has long put the pharma giant in consumer marketer spending territory. In 2014, for instance, it spent $1.4 billion, ranking No. 7 among all ad spenders, ahead of Verizon, Toyota and Chrysler and just below beauty giant L'Oreal, according to Kantar figures.

- see Kantar's December projection

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