Top 10 Drug Advertising Spends -- Q1 2012

While the grand party in direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising may have peaked about 5 years ago, it remains an important method of marketing drugs. The industry last year spent $2.4 billion on television ads, according to Nielsen. That is a 23% drop from the $3.1 billion spent in 2007.

Still, looking at the quarterly numbers, there are some interesting things to see and perhaps learn from. According to Nielsen, in all categories (but excluding business-to-business and Internet ads) the industry plunked down nearly $900 million for DTC advertising in the first three months of the year, about 14% less than the first quarter of last year. More than 70% of that is for television ads, but it also includes print ads, radio and even some billboard advertising.

More than a third of that, 37%, was devoted to the top 10 advertising buys. And much of that was spent on some of the best-selling drugs, products like Eli Lilly's ($LLY) antidepressant Cymbalta and its erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, as well as Abbott Laboratories' ($ABT) Humira. That rheumatoid arthritis drug is poised to become the best-selling drug in the world. That raises the whole chicken and egg question of whether drug companies play it safe and advertise their best-selling drugs or whether advertising propels them to that stratosphere. Some may also argue that they reached these sales levels because of inappropriate promotions since some of the drugs in the top 10 are among those tied to major marketing settlements between their makers and the government.

Not surprisingly, three of the top 10 come from Pfizer ($PFE), the largest drug company in the world, but students of this kind of thing may be intrigued to learn that Lipitor got the biggest push, ahead of painkillers Celebrex and Lyrica. That is interesting because sales of Lipitor, now that it's no longer patent-protected, have fallen so fast and so far in the face of generic competitors. That said, the $44.5 million Pfizer spent in the first quarter of 2012 is roughly 60% of the $71.9 million it laid out for advertising Lipitor a year earlier when it was still safe from copycats.

For many of the top 10, in fact, the amounts spent were less than last year, but in a few cases they were much more.

While most of the television spots will be familiar to anyone who doesn't TiVo through every ad on TV, we at FiercePharma have included links to one television spot for each drug. This we did with help from AdPharm, which has set itself up to provide to subscribers a comprehensive gallery of pharma advertising. Here is the gallery of all the videos for the drugs in the report or you can link from each section. The importance of this was made apparent when searching video sites for public versions of the ads. It turns out that a favorite pastime of amateur video heads is to create spoofs by overdubbing things like their alma mater admission videos with the voice over from ads of antidepressant drugs or to make videos of friends peeling bananas but using the audio from erectile dysfunction drugs.

As always, if you have thoughts about what you find here, please contact me via email or Twitter and express your ideas. -- Eric Palmer (email | Twitter)

Top 10 Drug Advertising Spends -- Q1 2012