Pharma’s digital promos to doctors surging as priorities shift

Pharma companies rushed to get on physician and hospital screens this year with a big jump in professional ads tracked.

During the pandemic, pharma advertising to consumers has surged with messages backing science, offering financial help with perscriptions and stressing the need to continue doctor visits and vaccinations.

But behind-the-scenes spending—that is, advertising and promotions to physicians and hospitals—is also way up. Overall, by more than 111% year over year through the first nine months of 2020, according to ad tech and media company MediaRadar.

Some individual brands have jumped even more. At the top of MediaRadar’s list, Pfizer’s Xeljanz digital ad spending to professionals is up more than 900%, Eli Lilly’s Verzenio is up 686%, Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent is up 369% and Johnson & Johnson’s Stelara is up 283%.

While MediaRadar reported earlier this year that the pandemic had virtually halted advertising to doctors, that initial shutdown reversed—and then digital spending began to grow through May with a 56% increase at that point. Now that increase has doubled again, with no sign of stopping.

Initially, the digital ads to doctors were mostly COVID-19 communications such as advising how to “keep your patients safe” or advertising certain medical supplies, for example. However, the content has since shifted away from pandemic-related ads, MediaRadar CEO Todd Krizelman, said.

That’s in part because of the accelerated shift of advertising spending away from print and into digital—professional print advertising has dropped 30% in the same time period. But the newer wave of ads also includes more corporate advertising and branded drug marketing, along with general vaccine safety messages from pharma companies in preparation for the coming COVID-19 immunizations, Krizelman said.

“In a normal market, it’s very rare to see that kind of shift over a short period of time," he said, adding that while the pharma industry isn't the only one seeing digital shifts, "it’s very concentrated in pharma more than ever.”

Increases are not as big in consumer digital. However, spending is still up, especially among some companies in 2020 to date. AbbVie is up 63% in digital spending to consumers, Novartis is up 51%, GlaxoSmithKline is up 36% and Amgen is up 39%.


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