Pharmaceutical Advertising

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

11 April 2018

Pharmaceutical advertising reaches new absurdity

Watching TV last night, I came across this commercial for Cosentyx, a drug to treat psoriasis from the drug company Novartis. The commercial seems innocent enough. It features a celebrity and the common man, something of a trend in big pharmaceutical advertising lately.

“What do these pharmaceutical advertising spots cost per potential patient?”

But something struck me odd about this ad.

Like most, I barely pay attention to pharmaceutical advertising. As a rule, I disdain them because they spend three-quarters of the ad warning you that it could kill you, maim you or ensure your children are born with hairy hobbit feet. My favorite warning states, “People who are allergic to (insert drug name here) shouldn’t take it.” That statement reaches a level of absurdity that rivals Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Pharmaceutical advertisingAs I was watching this one, I wondered how many people I know that suffer from psoriasis. The answer? None.

So, like many of us confronted by a question, I Googled it. According to the International Federation of Psoriasis Associations (IFPA), only about 3% of the world’s population has some form of psoriasis. In the US, there are about 7.5 million people affected with it. The plaque variety makes up about 80% of these cases, so roughly 6 million people in the US suffer from the kind of psoriasis Cosentyx treats. (And, no, Cosentyx does not cure psoriasis. It only treats the symptoms.)

These pharmaceutical advertising campaigns are for how many?

So then I got thinking about it. Isn’t there more pharmaceutical advertising for psoriasis? Yes, at least three more. Humira, Tremfya and Otezla. I assume there are some other brands and generics available as well.

Let’s do the math. Just take the above-mentioned four pharmaceutical marketing campaigns into account and divide the roughly 6 million people with psoriasis in the US between the four drugs. That comes to 1.5 million people per drug. (Assuming the unlikely scenario the pharmaceuticals each sport 25% market share and all 6 million people suffering from psoriasis even see the ads.) What do these pharmaceutical advertising spots cost per potential patient?

The ads demonstrate high production values and run on national networks. I am sure each features its own print and online components as well. Think of the cost marketing to a relatively small number of people. What gives?

What are these ads trying to do? Consumers can’t go to CVS and buy any of these off the shelf. Sure, they can ask their doctor. But given the size of the market, aren’t most people who have psoriasis already treating it in some way? So, are the ads for medical professionals? I honestly don’t know.

These ads cost a lot of money. R&D costs a lot of money. If there are four brand name drugs that all treat the same condition and there are only 6 million or so people who might possibly use the drug, where’s the money coming from?

That’s a rhetorical question. And we wonder why health care costs continue to rise.

See more posts in the following related categories: Advertising Pharmaceuticals

1 Comment

  1. David Herrick

    Once again I agree with you 100%. The elephant in the room is by spending money in such a narrow market, Big Pharma sets itself up for negative press and the kind of reaction you have about essentially questionable business practices. It’s been proven DTC pharma marketing is a complete waist of time and money. Even if it’s for a disease that effects hundreds of millions of people – every patient is different and their doctor understands (or should) their individual case and what they should respond to without drug to drug interaction (side effects or worse). However – I have done my share of marketing for biotech companies and the reward is amazing. They don’t have huge budgets and they are so appreciative of people like myself who can help them find their voice, a look, and present themselves to potential investors as a legitimate company. Oh – one last thing. The execution of that TV spot is pretty lame too. It’s most likely titled the “See Me” campaign, BUT there is a bold – all caps – type graphic covering their faces. I don’t know how the story board survived testing?


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