Pharma TV Ad Spending Trends: Companies in the Top Ten this Week

Pharma TV Ad Spending Trends: Companies in the Top Ten this Week

Pharma companies increased spending on TV ads over the past year as people spent more time in front of their TV sets during the pandemic.

Given that people have spent most of the past year being locked down at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it comes as no surprise that much of that time has been spent binging content on TV and through digital streaming services. In light of this, pharma wasted no time throwing some added cash towards TV ads. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the top ten pharma brands spent 17 percent more on TV ads in April 2020 compared to just a month prior, raising their monthly ad expenditures from $156 million to $183 million.

Moreover, with an increased interest in all things health because of the pandemic, it was an even bigger window of opportunity for pharma to up its advertising game. A study from the Cleveland Clinic showed that 68 percent of Americans decided to make healthy lifestyle changes during the COVID-19 pandemic and pay more attention to risk factors for health concerns, including chronic diseases and mental health issues.

Combined with the increased focus on health, TV watching — perhaps ironically — was seen to increase in the past year. According to a report from eMarketing, TV watching went up in 2020 for the first time in ten years. And this trend doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. A recent report by Market Watch, based on data from a survey conducted by Hub Entertainment Research in November 2020, shows that the proportion of US consumers who said they were watching a lot more TV than they did prior to the pandemic remains unchanged since July 2020.

Related: American Idol Singer, Crystal Bowersox, Helps Raise Awareness About Diabetes with Eli Lilly

According to Kantar Media, in 2020, total pharma advertising spending registered in at over $6.58 billion. Although this is just a bit above 2019’s $6.56 billion spending figure, experts say it is still noteworthy in a year in which US spending on advertising dropped by 13 percent overall.

While big pharma has typically relied on more traditional avenues of advertising such as print and TV media, investments into digital advertising has been on the rise. Both pharma and healthcare digital advertising (desktop and mobile videos) increased 43 percent, while print and out-of-home channels dropped by 16 percent and 81 percent, respectively, according to Kantar. Nevertheless, TV advertising accounted for $4.58 billion, or 75 percent of total pharma ad spend in 2020.

“National TV still functions as the competitive battleground so to speak, to create baseline awareness, especially in categories that have a lot of competition such as diabetes and asthma,” said Gregory Aston, global chief research officer, Kantar Media Division. “When a lot of brands are advertising simultaneously, linear TV helps you maintain awareness across your audience segment.”

According to TV ad tracker iSpot.tv, three of the top ten TV ad spenders last week (May 5 to May 12, 2021) were from pharma, coming in at the number four, eight and nine spots, among insurance giants and Domino’s Pizza. While AbbVie’s anti-inflammatory Humira has led pharma TV ad spending for a good part of the past year, the top pharma ads this week included diabetes drug ads from Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk.

Top Ten TV Ad Spenders
Top ten TV ads by expenditure (May 5 to May 12, 2021). Source: iSpot.tv


Here are the top three pharma ads from the past seven days.

1.      Rybelsus


Novo Nordisk’s oral GLP-1 diabetes drug Rybelsus (semaglutide) has been up in the ranks this year in pharma TV ad spending, with the Danish pharma company having spent $19.9 million and $18.6 million in March and April, respectively. Its latest ad campaign, “Wake Up to the Possibilities” set to the backdrop of Simon Ravenhall’s song “You Are My Sunshine,” boasts about the possibilities of lowering blood sugar for type 2 diabetics through a trifecta of increasing insulin, decreasing glycogen breakdown in the liver and slowing digestion.

The drug is a human glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonist that functions to increase insulin secretion from the pancreas. It is used to improve glycemic control in conjunction with diet modification and exercise.

Rybelsus is an oral pill form of semaglutide, which is also available as a once-a-week injection (Ozempic and Trulicity). Novo Nordisk spent almost $4.9 million to run its Rybelsus ad over the past week.

2.      Trulicity


Eli Lilly spent $4.8 million last week on its latest ad offering for its GLP-1 agonist Trulicity (dulaglutide). Trulicity’s currently on-air ad is called “Truly Powerful: Hotel Manager,” which shows the ease and power of lowering HbA1c levels with the once-a-week injection delivered through a simple pen apparatus. It’s used to improve blood sugar in combination with diet and exercise, and reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke and death in people with heart disease or who have various cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Like other GLP-1 agonists on the market, it helps control blood sugar through insulin increase, decreased glycogen breakdown in the liver and slowed digestion. Eli Lilly spent $14.7 million on the advert in April this year.

3.      Dupixent


Dupixent (dupilumab) is an IL-4 and IL-13 anti-inflammatory monoclonal antibody developed jointly by Regeneron and Sanofi. The drug is indicated for patients aged six years and older with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis (or eczema) that is not well controlled with prescription topical therapies, or those who cannot use topical treatments. It is also used in conjunction with other asthma medications for the maintenance treatment of moderate-to-severe eosinophilic or oral steroid dependent asthma. It was also granted FDA Breakthrough Therapy Designation by the agency in September 2020 for the potential treatment of eosinophilic esophagitis, an allergic inflammatory condition of the esophagus, and is currently being evaluated in trials for the condition. It is also being evaluated for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a rare autoimmune disease called bullous pemphigoid (BP), among others.

Dupixent’s currently running TV commercial is called “Roll Up Your Sleeves: Shawn, Ore and Jennifer,” which encourages eczema sufferers to push up their sleeves and confidently show some skin through healing with Dupixent. It shows people being able to enjoy daily activities such as sports and baking without the itchiness and discomfort associated with the skin condition.

The antibody is an IL-4 receptor alpha (IL-4Rα) agonist that modulates both IL-4 and IL-13 signaling to inhibit inflammatory responses. The drug was approved by the FDA in 2017.


While AbbVie’s Humira didn’t make the top spenders list this week, it has dominated pharma TV ad spending for quite a while now. Last month, the company was the biggest pharma TV ad spender, leading with ads for its anti-inflammatory TNF inhibitor pen injection Humira (adalimumab) for both arthritis/psoriasis and ulcerative colitis/Crohn’s (with focus on the latter).

The drug-maker also spent good sums on commercials for its JAK inhibitor Rinvoq for rheumatoid arthritis and the IL-23 psoriasis treatment Skyrizi, which came in at the number five and six spots, respectively. Dupixent, Rybelsus and Trulicity were number two, three and four for total ad expenditure in the month of April. However, according to Statista, in March, both Dupixent and Rybelsus edged out Humira in TV advertising with ad expenditures of $24 million and $19.9 million, respectively, compared to Humira’s $19.6 million.

Ad spending for the immunosuppressant Humira has been at the top of TV ad spend lists for quite some time now, as AbbVie continues to enjoy successful marketing of the drug for multiple indications.