Pharma sought safe havens for '09 consumer ads

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Pharma marketers placed safe bets and sought value in their consumer advertising buys last year, and that cautious approach is sure to continue.

Through the first nine months of the year, the top 10 pharma advertisers—which included heavyweights Pfizer, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca—decreased spend from $955 million to $865 million, according to Nielsen.

The roughly 9% decline was due in large part to a drop in network TV, more scrutiny on what brands should be supported and a greater emphasis on measurement, said Deborah Dick-Rath, SVP and healthcare practice leader at FactorTG, a technology company which measures marketing effectiveness.

“Overall, for most companies, there has been realignment behind brands that show pay-out and less willingness to risk expenditure if significant ROI is not predicted,” said Dick-Rath.

Pfizer placed heavy support behind cholesterol drug Lipitor—$155 million through the first three quarters, according to TNS Media Intelligence, making Lipitor the top DTC brand during that period. The company's other DTC—for neurology treatment Lyrica, stop-smoking pill Chantix, as well as COPD treatment Spiriva (with Boehringer Ingelheim)—kept Pfizer in first place with $704 million spent on DTC, according to the nine-month Nielsen figures.
Otsuka, which co-markets depression med Abilify with Bristol-Myers Squibb, exemplified the blockbuster mindset. The company spent $150 million through the first nine months on DTC, a 75% increase compared to the first nine months of 2008. Not coincidentally, Abilify was the number-two DTC brand during that time frame, with $150 million spent on consumer advertising, TNS figures show.

Companies lessening spend included GSK, which reduced advertising outlays by about 40% as of September. Merck reduced spend by nearly 17%, the nine-month data show, reflecting decreased outlay behind its cardio franchise and Gardasil, as well as the Schering-Plough merger. Eli Lilly's 24% decrease was due to cuts in areas like diabetes, as the firm concentrated efforts behind Cymbalta ($141 million) and Cialis ($122 million), the number-three and -five DTC brands, respectively, per TNS September 2009 data.

Pharmas more than tripled online spend to $221 million during the first three quarters, according to TNS.

Commenting on greater use of cable TV, magazines and Sunday supplements, Dick-Rath added, “As [companies] evaluate the mix, return and impact of those channels, ‘DTC' itself will continue to be less of a blunt instrument, but continue to evolve and to become an important part of pharmaceutical communication planning.”
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