Drug makers dial down consumer ads

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By Matthew Arnold

Rest in peace, Digger, Abe and the Beaver. Soldier on, Lunesta Moth, Nasonex Bee and VESIcare pipe people. You may be the last of a dying breed, flitting across our TV screens — and increasingly, our computer screens — to inform us that treatment options are available for maladies that many of us suffer from.

Consumer advertising spend for prescription drugs inched down last year, going from $4.6 billion for the year to October 2009 to $4.4 billion for the same period in 2010, according to SDI data.

That 4% decline is modest enough, but spending is down more than a billion dollars since 2006, and the reigning best-advertised drug, Lipitor, loses U.S.-patent protection in November. And consider this: The $272 million Pfizer spent on Lipitor DTC in 2010 is alone more than the $191 million less pharmas spent on consumer advertising last year. Another top advertised brand, Lilly's Cymbalta (No. 5 for 2010 with $171 million), goes off patent in 2013.

“Looking at a lot of these recent launches, newer brands aren't exactly coming in like lions,” says Liz O'Neil, VP director of channel marketing at Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide.

Few of the brands coming to market these days are indicated for the sort of mass-market conditions — like high cholesterol, diabetes, ED, insomnia or osteoporosis — that has fueled the big-ticket channels of TV and print over the past decade. TV makes less sense for many of the smaller and far more specialty-focused brands that are making it through the approval process these days. Products for these more narrow conditions typically employ a broad mix of highly targeted channels, mostly digital — if they market to consumers at all.

There are a number of specialty brands advertising, though — products such as  Bristol-Myers Squibb's Orencia for rheumatoid arthritis, Amgen's Neupogen, Amgen/Pfizer's Enbrel and Abbott's Humira autoimmune disorder treatments, and AstraZeneca bipolar/schizophrenia treatment Seroquel XR.
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