2023 is coming to a close and so concludes another eventful year of pharma advertising.

Medical marketers had their work cut out for them this year as the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic ended but uncertainty in the broader economy remained.

That meant shifting gears on healthcare communications to hit increasingly hard-to-reach consumers with a message that resonates.

With 2024 closing in, it’s worth examining the state of pharma advertising on TV and what factors could contribute to changing dynamics in the new year.

Standard bearers carry on

If there are three tentpoles likely to remain for pharma advertising in 2024, it’s live sports, daytime TV and news, according to Tyler Bobin, senior brand analyst at real-time ad tracker iSpot.tv.

Bobin tells MM+M that pharma brands are “heavily reliant” on news stations and the NFL for their marketing efforts. This was put into finer focus during the middle of 2023 when the actors and writers strikes contributed to a scarcity of scripted programming on TV.

He notes that over-the-counter (OTC) brands aired six times more ads during college football games than their pharma counterparts, who found twice as much success during NFL games, generating 1.2 billion impressions in total.

Pharma brands also experienced year-over-year increases in impressions resulting from the three network evening news broadcasts.

The rise of commercials and messaging around diabetes and obesity drugs – namely for Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro and Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic – represent an evolving trend Bobin says the industry should be mindful of in 2024.

“Ozempic’s spending is down year-over-year, but impressions are actually up. And while Mounjaro didn’t advertise in 2022, they did advertise a ton in 2023, starting in February, and totaling about $103 million to date. So in those 10 months, we’ve seen them spend quite a bit of money,” he says.

The widespread interest and demand for these weight loss drugs will lead to additional advertising next year and one event could offer a natural tie-in for marketers: the Summer Olympics in Paris. 

Bobin says an integration of these drugs in the Olympics, which are considered a “feel good” event with a worldwide audience, would be a prime placement opportunity for advertisers and align with the sports-oriented nature of the games.

Election effect

The 2024 presidential election campaign is looming, unavoidable and will have a major impact on the nation – pharma advertising included.

Given that political commercials are inevitably going to crowd the airwaves and drive up the price of ad space, Bobin anticipates more daytime TV viewing and increased ad impressions for pharma brands in that area. 

“When it comes to elections, the reason they drive up prices is that you’re having more brands compete for just a static amount of inventory,” he says. 

In 2023, network TV shows delivered more ad impressions than they did in 2022, he notes, with Law & Order: SVU generating 25% more ad impressions year-over-year. 

Bobin adds that leading brands could also consider shifting their ad dollars towards streaming and online services in lieu of paying higher premiums to compete against political messages throughout the year in primetime. He notes that during the last election, there were two presidential campaign ads run during the Super Bowl, a bellwether for advertising dynamics.

The uncertainty of this election cycle may ultimately lead to more political ads and fewer brands overall, causing CPMs to rise during high-profile programs.

The rise of RSV and Dupixent dominance

Contrary to common belief, advertising for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines has increased despite declining demand, Bobin says. 

While some say there is vaccine fatigue when it comes to COVID, commercials promoting RSV vaccines have already started gaining attention despite not even advertising last year. 

Bobin says drugmakers see opportunities to shine the spotlight on their newly approved shots, with Pfizer slated to double their RSV advertising efforts in 2024.

Will Dupixent remain the top Rx and OTC brand next year? Bobin predicts the eczema and asthma treatment from Sanofi and Regeneron will hold on to its crown but sees room for newcomers to disrupt the market.

Bobin says data indicates a growing interest in treatments for psoriasis, shingles and skin conditions among prescription pharma categories.

Reiterating that pharma advertising has found a comfortable home with live sports, daytime TV, and new stations, Bobin notes that these brands will continue looking for programming to reliably reach their target audiences.

“You never really know what to expect when it comes to pharma, but you always can expect the unexpected,” he says. 

For a January 2024 article on the top OTC pharma brands for December 2023, click here.