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Pfizer is pharma’s biggest advertiser

Published on 31/03/15 at 10:42am
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US giant Pfizer spends far more on direct-to-consumer advertising than any other pharma firm according to new data from Kantar Media.

The company spent $1.4 billion on advertising in the US last year, an increase of $261 million from 2013. This was more than the next three biggest pharma ad spenders – AbbVie, Lilly and AstraZeneca – combined, and bucked the trend of most other major advertisers in the US cutting back on advertising over the year.

“When you’re in a leadership position, what advertising does is it defends your brands,” Laura Ries, president of brand strategy firm Ries & Ries, tells Bloomberg. “Pfizer’s raising that bar so that other players are less likely to be heard.”

Data from information firm Nielsen also shows that seven of the top 10 most-advertised drugs are produced by Pfizer, in a list dominated by treatments for chronic conditions. This includes the company’s blockbusters Viagra (sildenafil citrate) for erectile dysfunction (ED), anticoagulant Eliquis (apixaban), and Xeljanz (tofacitinib) for arthritis – which together brought in $10.5 billion in sales for the firm last year.

Its best-selling product, pain-relief medicine Lyrica (pregabalin), is the second most-advertised drug overall, with an ad spend of approximately $200 million. It is just beaten by Lilly’s own ED treatment Cialis (tadalafil), which had a spend of $210 million in 2014.

The only other companies in the top 10 are Japanese firm Dainippon Sumitomo with its antipsychotic Latuda (lurasidone HCl), and AbbVie with its rheumatoid arthritis treatment Humira (Adalimumab). These products had advertising budgets of approximately $150 million and $120 million respectively.

The total advertising spend by pharma companies in America grew by 21% in 2014 to reach $4.54 billion. Direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical products is only allowed in the US and New Zealand, and is banned across Europe, Australia and other areas.

J&J sues GSK for false advertising

The importance pharma places on direct-to-consumer promotion in the US was highlighted on Monday, when GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay a settlement to Johnson & Johnson after it accused the UK firm of using false advertising.

The ad in question claims that GSK’s nasal allergy spray Flonase (fluticasone nasal) outperforms an unnamed ‘No. 1 allergy’ pill, controlling six symptoms where its competitor only controls one.

J&J sought to block the ad, saying that these claims are not supported by clinical data, and that its own allergy medicine sales could be harmed as a result. The companies have said the terms of the settlement are confidential, but ‘mutually acceptable and amicable’.

George Underwood

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