Upfront 2004 – The Advertisers: Prescription Drugs

Although the rapidly increasing media spending by drug companies had leveled off in 2002, last year’s spending increased by double digits. Media outlays are expected to increase substantially again this year.

Prescription drug marketers boosted media outlays by 24 percent last year to $3.2 billion, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Drug sales are up as well, with IMS Health reporting that prescription sales in the U.S. increased 11.5 percent to $216.4 billion in 2003.

Largely responsible for the increased spending is increased competition within sub-categories where there has been a rush of me-too products to hit the market. Medication for erectile disfunction is one example. Previously only represented in the United States with Pfizer’s Viagra, competitor Levitra, jointly marketed by Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline, hit the market in August, while another competitor, Eli Lilly’s Cialis, was approved for sale domestically in January. That segment alone is expected to generate a media spend of about $300 million or more this year. Last year, Pfizer spent $111 million on Viagra media, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, while Bayer/GlaxoSmithKline spent $46 million on Levitra from August through the end of the year.

Another recent launch, Relpax, Pfizer’s treatment for migraines, is expected to boost the media allocation of its main competitor this year, which is GlaxoSmithKline’s Imitrex. (Glaxo spent $70 million on Imitrex last year, per TNS/CMR.)

New drug entries last year included AstraZeneca’s cholesterol medication, Crestor, as well as a Eli Lilly’s Strattera, a non-stimulating medication for attention deficit hyperactive disorder. AZ’s spend on Crestor this year is expected to be in the $60 to $70 million range, while Lilly put $6 million into Strattera media through February of this year, and $63 million last year.

Despite the solid spending growth in the prescription drug area, the majority of the media outlay goes to cable and non-prime time network. With just a few exceptions (like allergy drugs and birth control), the target for many highly advertised drugs—such as arthritis, erectile disfunction, cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure medications—are people in their 50s (who are being pitched the drugs for themselves or aging parents), all the way up to seniors in their 90s.

These demos spend more time watching cable news network programming and talk shows such as CNN’s Larry King Live in the evening, and perhaps CNBC during the day in addition to network soap operas and other syndicated daytime talk shows. The way network spending has figured in light of that: With a total prescription media outlay of $3.2 billion last year, $1.1 billion of that went toward network programming, while the network prime time allocation was $590 million—still, an increase of 19 percent from $498 million in 2002.

Marketers of newer prescription drug entries, however, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Ortho Tri-Cylen Lo birth control pill, its Ortho Evra weekly birth control patch and Lilly’s Strattera—which is marketed for adult ADHD—may find it equally, or perhaps more, important to be shown during network prime time programming versus daytime and cable news.—Christine Bittar

Christine Bittar is a reporter for Brandweek.


A new phenomenon that prescription drug makers are up against: Prescription medications are now increasingly competing with and marketing themselves against over-the-counter options. For OTC remedies, the network prime time media spend is much higher, with last year’s number at $1.1 billion, up 18 percent from 2002.

The best example is in the allergy drug arena. With Schering-Plough’s Claritin now available over the counter, ads for Aventis’ Allegra not only compare the drug to its prescription rivals, but also to OTC options such as Claritin and even Pfizer’s Benadryl. AstraZeneca’s stomach-remedy Prilosec changed from prescription to over the counter at the end of last year, making that and Claritin the most significant Rx-to-OTC switches since J&J’s Pepcid went over-the-counter over a decade ago.

To keep the dollars flowing, drug companies have been introducing what’s referred to as next-generation drugs. Prior to Prilosec’s OTC launch, AZ introduced its next-generation answer, Nexium. What that’s meant for media outlets is a whopping total spend of $215 million last year, per TNS/CMR, while Procter & Gamble, which is handling Prilosec OTC marketing, spent $32 million on media for that drug from September through year-end. Meanwhile, TAP Pharmaceutical’s prescription stomach medication Prevacid responded with a media outlay of $114 million last year, versus $82 million in 2002.

Similarly in allergy, S-P’s next-generation Clarinex received $35 million in prime time media support alone in 2003, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.—C.B.