We’re all familiar with ubiquitous television spots touting the scientific prowess of pharma and entreating viewers to talk to their doctor about various therapies. A tabulation of the industry’s last full year of consumer media spending suggests the industry isn’t changing the channel anytime soon.

Drugmakers ramped up TV investment by 1.6%, to $5.8 billion, in 2022. Industry-wide, direct-to-consumer spending rose 5.6%, to $7.6 billion from $7.2 billion in 2021, according to Nielsen Ad Intel, which tracks media investment. 

The totals underscore pharma advertisers’ continued reliance on driving top-of-the-funnel awareness, even as digital tactics grabbed a bigger slice of the marketing pie. Digital — encompassing display, video and social — surged 45.2%, to nearly $1.2 billion. Print advertising plummeted 35%, to $375.9 million. 

In addition to outdoor and cinema, both of which rose sharply as the pandemic entered year three and people started resuming their normal lives, it’s no surprise that media spending was most pronounced in digital. That channel, which encompasses display, video and social, topped $1 billion for the first time, according to Nielsen.

For years, pharma had been gradually warming to digital advertising, and COVID-19 accelerated the shift. Spending more than doubled in 2021 — to $825.8 million, from $459.2 the year prior. But with linear TV still the dominant channel, classic reach-and-frequency style ads remain alive and well in pharma’s media toolbox. 

Pfizer headed the list of highest-spending advertisers, plunking down north of a billion dollars to engage consumers. Its corporate branding, including pandemic-erasciencey type ad campaigns, also far surpassed all other individual pharma brands. 

Next on the list of chart-topping advertisers came AbbVie, whose $1 billion-plus budget nearly matched Pfizer’s although it didn’t have a brand within the top five. They were followed by Sanofi, whose versatile immunology blockbuster Dupixent took the number two and four spots on the brand list for its eczema and asthma indications, respectively. 

Novo Nordisk claimed fourth place on the company list, powered by its diabetes drug Ozempic, which was the fifth most-advertised brand. And Novartis came in as the No. 5 advertiser. Takeda’s Entyvio immunology product snared third place behind a $223 million ad push.

Products like Dupixent, Entyvio and Ozempic — so-called “mass-media biologics,” or pricey injectable therapies with relatively large (and growing) patient populations — lend themselves to broad messaging. Their appearance on Nielsen’s list coincides with the industry’s shift away from small molecules and toward specialty drugs over the last decade.