Updated: May 6
Health took center stage in 2020 and pharma marketers banked on it.
Even as other marketers cut down on advertising budgets, pharma brand advertising endured and achieved a small gain. It makes sense as the pandemic spurred health reassessments and consumer interest that brands would aim to reach them with products. 68% of Americans reported they were paying more attention to risk factors for health issues other than Covid-19 as a result of the pandemic, according to a Cleveland Clinic study last fall.
Overall pharma advertising spending peaked at $6.58 billion in 2020, according to Kantar measured media. That’s just a notch above the 2019 total of $6.56 billion, but still remarkable in a year that saw U.S. overall advertising spend reduce by 13%.
Pharma’s big-picture advertising stability includes behind-the-scenes budget shifts, however, as pharma brands transmitted dollars from some ad channels to others. Pharma spending on digital video-desktop and mobile increased by 43%, while print and out-of-home channels decreased by 16% and 81% respectively, according to Kantar.
Pharma TV advertising remained the cornerstone of spending with $4.58 billion, a massive 75% of the overall spend. That’s just slightly up from 2019 when national TV was 73% of Pharma’s investment.
For now, the brands listed below are the Top 10 Pharma Spenders as reported by Kantar
What is it: anti-TNF monoclonal antibody
2020 spend: $499.85 million
2019 spend: $577.3 million
Humira and ad spending cuts are words that don’t usually show up in the same sentence. But in 2020, that’s exactly what happened, according to Kantar media spending data – and it had little to do with the pandemic.
The decline was by design, part of AbbVie’s brand portfolio marketing strategy. AbbVie is intentionally redistributing its Humira ad budget to its newer generation of immunology products, namely rheumatoid arthritis Rinvoq and psoriasis med Skyrizi, Elaine Sorg, AbbVie senior VP and head of U.S. commercial operations disclosed in 2020.
Humira spending declined by more than $77 million, which is just a 13% decrease. Still, a lot of well-promoted mainstream drugs don’t even spend $77 million in a normal year.
Despite the decline, Humira still ranked top in pharma spending, by Kantar’s tallies – although this year “only” $90 million ahead of No. 2-and-rising spender Dupixent. Comparatively, Humira topped second-place finisher Xeljanz last year by more than $200 million.
AbbVie first started its next-generation shift by studying both new drugs directly against Humira. After FDA approvals, it then started shifting Humira’s Salesforce and resources to the newer drugs. And over the previous year, some of Humira’s big-time advertising budget.
The drop in spending highlights a major revolution for the industry. AbbVie has topped category spending for eight years, injecting billions over that timeframe into Humira advertising.
The anti-TNF med was first approved on December 31, 2002. AbbVie has extended Humira’s exclusive lock on the market with extra indications and follow-up patients, but stroke a deal with biosimilar competitors that lets them into the market in 2023.
That longevity at the top of the spending list is remarkable: Drugs often drop on and off major monthly tally of TV ad spending, but Humira has consistently occupied the top 2 on the list for the past five years through iSpot.tv’s real-time ad data.
The bulk of Humira’s spending is national broadcast and cable TV ads.
Company: Sanofi and Regeneron
What is it: IL – 13 immunology drug
2020 spend: $409.8 million
2019 spend: $199.4 million
Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent was only one of the pharma spending crowd in 2019, but that all changed in 2019 when the blockbuster injected an additional $200 million on advertising.
In total, Dupixent spent more than $409 million across its two approved indications in atopic dermatitis and asthma – and that in only its second full year of advertising. According to Kantar data, the brand beat Pfizer’s Xeljanz for the No.2 spot on this year’s list.
And it will possibly continue. Sanofi and Regeneron are aiming to snag more indications – the two are carrying out trials in eight different diseases, including esophagitis and eosinophilic – and banking on its type 2 inflammation – fighting to push it to above $11 billion in yearly sales.
Dupixent sales exceeded $4 billion in 2020 sales on meteoric 75% year-over-year growth.
What is it: JAK inhibitor for rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis
2020 spend: $232.7 million
2019 spend: $202.9 million
Pfizer promotional spending on Xeljanz recovered in 2020 after declining the past year. The brand still hasn’t recovered to its 2018 best mark of $257 million, but it’s closing in.
Xeljanz upped its media budget by 15% in the pandemic year, when more viewers were at home and more engaged in both TV and digital entertainment.
The rheumatoid arthritis med continued its long-running “Made for Better Things” campaign theme and included psoriatic arthritis to its messaging. The JAK-inhibitor pill also continued to market its “unjection” delivery method – inviting comparisons to its injectable competitors Amgen’s Enbrel and AbbVie’s Humira.
Xeljanz wrapped its approved conditions – rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ulcerative colitis – into one commercial for the first time last year, highlighting the drug as a general option for “certain inflammatory conditions.”
Pfizer also emphasized on Xeljanz’s history on the market, touting it as “first prescribed for RA more than seven years ago.”
What is it: IL-23 psoriasis treatment
2020 spend: $202.25 million
AbbVie’s next-generation psoriasis med Skyrizi is fresh on the drug spender’s list – thanks partially to AbbVie budget shifts as well as surging first-year sales.
Approved by the FDA in 2019, Skyrizi first started advertising in the fall of that year. 2020 was the company’s first full year on the market – and in market with advertising campaigns.
AbbVie came up with a theme song, “Nothing is Everything,” for the launch and used it through last year in four new TV commercials, including one focused on the year’s challenges and financial assistance that may be available.
Sales for the year amounted to $1.6 billion, with $1.4 billion of that in the U.S. And that is literally only the beginning. Analysts anticipates sales of the drug to exceed $4.5 billion by 2025, and AbbVie itself is targeting $20 billion in peak combined sales from Skyrizi and fellow immunology drug Rinvoq.
Company: Novo Nordisk
What is it: GLP-1 diabetes med
2020 spend: Humira
2019 spend: $160.5 million
Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Ozempic and the remarkably catchy jingle woven through its TV and radio ads is returning for a third year in a row in the top spenders’ list.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock, the Ozempic tune is a take on ‘70s tune “Magic” by Pilot. While the actual words to the song are, “Oh, oh, oh, it’s magic,” the TV advertising parrots, “Oh, oh, oh, Ozempic.”
The Danish drugmaker did include one new TV commercial in 2020, together with the original launch ads from 2019, and the now-legendary tune is here to stay.
Jeremy Shepler, who is in charge of Novo’s injectable GLP-1 portfolio, acknowledged the earworm power of the Ozempic tune. Healthcare providers have been known to serenade Novo sales reps with songs when they visit, he disclosed in a February interview.
“I can’t imagine dissociating with the song because not only do we have a tremendous amount of brand awareness, the recall levels are insane. It is actually become part of our brand, if not a main driver of the brand – that pneumonic itself,” Shepler said.
The ‘70s song is a particularly great fit for Ozempic, a GLP-1 treatment for Type 2 diabetes, which has an initial average age of 45, according to the American Diabetes Association.
And the final evidence may be in the sales. Ozempic recorded $2.5 billion in sales in 2020, a huge jump from its first full year of sales in 2019 of $1.65 billion.
Together with the jingle-led advertising campaign, Ozempic also created an online series with celebrity spokesperson comedian and actor Billy Gardell. The online videos and lifestyle resources at “My Type 2 Transformation” follow Gardell and another patient from their first injection of Ozempic through six months of individual healthcare education, diet changes, exercise and life coaching.
Company: Eli Lilly
What is it: GLP-1 receptor agonist for Type-2 diabetes
2020 spend: $176.3 million
2019 spend: $148.3 million
Eli Lilly dedicated significant resources to its monoclonal antibody COVID-19 treatment bamlanivimab and its combo follow-up, but that doesn’t mean it ignored Trulicity, a solidly built performer and tried-and-true DTC brand.
Trulicity remained Lilly’s top-selling drug with $5.1 billion in sales, up 23% over the past year, spurred by higher volume but compensated by lower prices because of higher rebates negotiated with payers.
Advertising spending for the GLP-1 diabetes drug was also robust, increasing by nearly $30 million and rebounding in 2020 after a decline in spending for 2019, according to Kantar data. That pushed Trulicity back up the chart from No. 10 last year.
Lilly continued its message by speaking to Type 2 diabetes patients about taking control of their condition and taking advantage of “the power” in their bodies to control A1C levels with the help of Trulicity.
A fresh set of 2020 TV commercials reiterates its now 5-year-old narration of Trulicity as a treatment that stimulates an individual’s body to naturally produce its own insulin.
The latest work also includes Spanish-language commercials, extending a push that started in 2019. Forty percent of newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes patients are of Hispanic descent.
What is it: next-gen rheumatoid arthritis med
2020 spend: $175.5 million
Rinvoq is AbbVie’s third med to make it to the pharma ad spenders’ top 10 for 2020, landing on the list in just its first year of DTC advertising. The new rheumatoid arthritis pill started with the launch of a multimedia campaign in March that looked to distinguish it in the competitive sector.
TV ads feature active RA patients including a mechanic, an outdoor photographer, and a home renovator with the message to “Make it your mission” to fight the debilitating disease.
Rinvoq’s debut campaign is firm in research and feedback from individuals living with RA, AbbVie remarked when the work was launched.
The Illinois pharma is counting on Rinvoq, together with Skyrizi, to help lessen the loss of exclusivity for best-seller Humira as U.S. biosimilars prepare for market. Industry analysts point to an “AbbVie halo” that’s already helped to boost Rinvoq popularity among rheumatologists.
Rinvoq sales amounted to $731 million in 2020, and while not quite yet a blockbuster, AbbVie has high ambitions for the drug. It raised combined sales guidance for Skyrizi and Rinvoq from $10 billion to more than $15 billion for 2025, according to AbbVie’s 2020 annual report.
AbbVie is also looking for new indications for the JAK inhibitor with trails in ulcerative colitis ongoing and two other indications under review at the FDA. It submitted an application to the FDA for psoriatic arthritis in June, followed by another for atopic dermatitis in October.
Company: Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb
What is it: next-gen anticoagulant
2020 spend: $170.5 million
2019 spend: $158.5 million
Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Eliquis is closing in on its seventh year on the market with DTC advertising – and no signs of slowing.
Advertising for the market-leading anticoagulant upped again in 2020, boosted by more than $10 million and keeping the brand relatively steady at Number 8 on the list. Eliquis was number 7 last year, but new competitors Rinvoq and Skyrizi both jumped in ahead on the list.
Eliquis runs two commercials for two different indications – as an atrial fibrillation treatment and also for deep vein thrombosis and/or pulmonary embolism. Pfizer and BMS continued pushing its “Around the Corner” DVT work last year, but added two new spots in afib, each aimed at one older patient who speaks about “what’s next” for them in living active lives even though they live with higher stroke risk.
While unbranded campaigns aren’t included in Kantar’s ad tallies, Pfizer and BMS did start a pandemic-styled campaign focused on three health conditions treated by Eliquis targeted at raising awareness and motivating people to seek medical attention.
However, even with people missing doctors’ visits, Eliquis achieved a sales increase. BMS reported 2020 sales of $9.2 billion, an increase of 16% over the last year. Eliquis gained during the pandemic as demand increased as healthcare personnel and systems started COVID-19 stocking the blood thinner Eliquis.
The drug gained from early pandemic evidence that using blood thinners in COVID-19 patients might lower the risk of death from clotting-related complications such as heart attacks and strokes.
Company: Bristol Myers Squibb
What is it: PD-1 cancer-fighter + Yervoy for dual-immunotherapy regimen
2020 spend: $164.8 million
After becoming the first immuno-oncology med to run DTC TV commercials in 2015, Opdivo is back, this time promoting its Yervoy combination as a non-chemotherapy alternative.
Bristol Myers Squibb paused its initial campaign for Opdivo in 2018, but last year renewed a similar “longer life” message with its approved Opdivo and Yervoy combination TV ads.
The first branded Opdivo-plus-Yervoy campaign recalls the earliest Opdivo work, renewing the phrase, “a chance to live longer” first used in Opdivo’s debut commercial, this time touting “a chance for more.”
The new commercial also notes that the tandem treatment is the “first and only approved chemo-free combination,” taking advantage of the appeal of the possibility to treat cancer without chemotherapy, usually a grueling process with lasting effects.
The advertising released as the Opdivo and Yervoy combination rolled up indications. Front-line mesothelioma was the combo’s fourth U.S. indication approval in October, following approvals in previously treated liver cancer and two in non-small cell lung cancer in the first-line metastatic setting.
Opdivo recorded $7 billion in sales in 2020, down 3% from $7.2 billion the past year. Meanwhile, Yervoy recorded $7.1 billion, an increase of 13% year over year with BMS attributing the boost to the combination approval and uptake.
What is it: oral psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis drug
2020 spend: $150.4 million
2019 spend: $155.9 million
After rumors about likely changes made by a new parent and new marketing team, Otezla’s first full year with Amgen is similar to its last year with Celgene. Amgen stayed on a similar course with steady ad spending and continuous messaging.
Otezla spending declined only slightly by about $5 million, according to Kantar tallies. That kept the brand almost at the same place on the Big Pharma spenders list, just a spot lower than it had been in 2019.
Its “Little Things” campaign, tone and even theme song and actors continued with only minor changes. One modification in the wording was the change in the original introduction from “Little things can be a big deal” to last year’s newly debuted ads and the phrase “Little things can become your big moment.”
Yet, Amgen kept consistent – the same actress who appeared in the very first “Little Things” ad in fact, stars in one of the 2020 TV ads with some of her original footage used as well. The campaign tagline “Otezla: Show more of you” also continued as the sign-off even after the parent company transition.
Otezla recorded $2.2 billion in sales for Amgen last year and as the company noted in its annual report "we believe it will be a strong growth driver for us in the coming years.” Amgen gained from its form factor as a pill during the pandemic, with an advantage over in-office injections when people couldn’t get to visit their doctor as easily.
Amgen commercial boss Murdo Gordon disclosed to investors that the pill battling against a sea of injectable psoriasis competitors “proved to be a convenient option” for patients.
One way Amgen expects future Otezla growth is through new indications. Amgen recently filed for an indication for Otezla in mild to moderate plaque psoriasis – which if accepted, could also boost promotional media spending.