The top 10 ad spenders in Big Pharma for 2020

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Pharma TV advertising remained the cornerstone of ad spending with $4.6 billion or about 75% of the total tally in 2020.

Health took center stage in 2020 and pharma marketers acted on it.

Even as other marketers slashed advertising budgets, pharma brand advertising endured and notched a small gain. It makes sense as the pandemic pushed health reassessments and consumer interest that companies would look to reach them with products. Sixty-eight percent of Americans said they were paying more attention to risk factors for health issues other than COVID-19 because of the pandemic, according to a Cleveland Clinic study last fall.

Total pharma advertising spending topped $6.58 billion in 2020, according to Kantar measured media. That’s just a notch above the 2019 total of $6.56 billion, but still noteworthy in a year that saw U.S. advertising spend drop by 13% overall.

Pharma’s big-picture advertising stability includes behind-the-scenes budget shifts, however, as pharma companies moved dollars from some ad channels to others. Pharma spending on digital video—desktop and mobile—increased 43%, while print and out-of-home channels dropped by 16% and 81%, respectively, according to Kantar.

RELATED: Pharma and healthcare digital advertising jumps during pandemic: report

Pharma TV advertising remained the cornerstone of spending with $4.58 billion, a whopping 75% of the total spend. That’s up just slightly from 2019 when national TV was 73% of pharma’s investment.

“National TV still functions as the competitive battleground so to speak, to create baseline awareness, especially in categories that have a lot of competition such as diabetes and asthma,” Gregory Aston, global chief research officer, Kantar Media Division, said. “When a lot of brands are advertising simultaneously, linear TV helps you maintain awareness across your audience segment.”

Targeted video then works to reach specific audiences narrowed down by things like location, age, gender and media preferences, he added.

Kantar’s media tally includes national and spot TV, digital video, banner, radio, print, search and out of home. It does not include social media ad spending which would push pharma’s total considerably higher.

Social ad spending analyst firm Pathmatics tracks millions of dollars spent by pharma companies on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In 2020, for instance, the top five advertisers—Pfizer ($55 million), GlaxoSmithKline ($48 million), Allergan ($19 million), Merck ($16 million) and Novartis ($14 million)—would add $152 million alone to the industry's tally.

RELATED: Pharma ups April TV spending for stuck-at-home viewers with AbbVie leading the way

Still, whether social or TV, the advertising shifts caused not only by the pandemic but what was already an increasingly digital and fragmented media consumption likely has pharma advertisers testing and experimenting to find the most effective combinations.

“It’s a bit of a balancing act especially with ad-based video on demand that brands are still trying to figure out,” Aston said. “Do they aggressively pursue digital and re-direct dollars from live TV to digital—or do they continue to spend incrementally on digital and sustain investments in TV? Those are the decisions that are going to play out in 2021.”

For now, the following brands are the top 10 pharma spenders as tabulated by Kantar for 2020.

The top 10 ad spenders in Big Pharma for 2020