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Most Recalled Drug Commercials Are not the Biggest Spenders

2 minute read | April 2010

Although spending for pharmaceutical drug advertising on TV is not at the level it used to be, the investment by marketers in this space remained stable with a 0.6% increase in 2009 expenditures on national TV compared to 2008, according to The Nielsen Company.  With six of the top 10 brands spending more than $100M on national broadcast, cable, and syndicated TV ads, the cholesterol reducing drug Lipitor had the largest expenditure in 2009.  Erectile dysfunction drug Cialis by maker Eli Lilly was the second-highest spender followed by Abilify, an add-on treatment for depression from Bristol-Meyers Squibb.  Despite the recession, the top 10 prescription brand spenders invested $1.1 billion on national TV commercials, compared to $1.0 billion in 2008.

Rank Brand
1 Lipitor
2 Cialis
3 Abilify
4 Cymbalta
5 Plavix
6 Symbicort
7 Lyrica
8 Advair
9 Viagra
10 Crestor
Source: The Nielsen Company

Spending the most doesn’t necessarily equate to efficiency in viewer recollection, however.  In fact, new research released by Nielsen IAG found that the top four most memorable TV commercials which launched in 2009 included brands that did not spend the most on their respective campaigns in 2009. The two most recalled ads for Flomax promoted awareness of BPH treatment, followed by the HPV vaccine Gardasil and newcomer, anti-depressant Pristiq – were not among the year’s largest spenders for TV advertising by a long-shot.

2009 Most Recalled Prescription Drug/Vaccine Ads

Rank Brand Ad Length (seconds) Recall Index
1 Flomax 45 & 60 141
2 Flomax 45 & 60 139
3 Gardasil 60 137
4 Pristiq 75 135
5 Aricept 60 133
5 Cialis 60 133
5 Orencia 75 133
6 Plavix 60 & 75 123
6 Viagra 60 123
7 Cialis 60 121
7 Flomax 60 121
Source: The Nielsen Company

“As with any category of advertising on TV today challenged with the need to cut-through the clutter and drive awareness and ultimately, persuade target viewers to take action, creativity and clarity are essential ingredients for effective and efficient ad development and deployment.  Pharmaceutical drug ads are not exempt from this challenge,” said Fariba Zamaniyan, Senior Vice President within the healthcare practice of Nielsen IAG.

While TV spending for prescription drug advertising has declined over the years, a number of factors contributed to that decline: fewer drug launches, the economic downturn and the increasing scrutiny by the FDA for prescription drug ads to increase the clarity of the delivery of product claim information in the ads. Stricter guidelines have forced an increase in ad length for many prescription advertisers which has resulted in extended ad lengths and ultimately, higher costs. In fact, the number of Rx ads that are greater than 60 seconds in length has nearly tripled since from 2006 to 2009.

“Longer ad lengths has further compounded the pressure marketers in this space already feel to build break-through advertising,” said Ms. Zamaniyan.  “However, longer length ads do not drop the bar when it comes to achieving goals.  Several ads in the top 10 most recalled new ads of 2009 include ad lengths greater than 60 seconds which further demonstrates that compelling and unique creative executions will help you stand out from the rest even if the ad is more than one-minute long.”

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