Think You’re Seeing More Drug Ads on TV? You Are, and Here’s Why

And where are viewers most likely to encounter ads for Lyrica (a pill for diabetic nerve pain, among other ailments), Humira (a drug for rheumatoid arthritis), Eliquis (an anticoagulant that is meant to treat blood clots and to lower the risk of strokes) and other prescription medications? Dramas and news shows, according to data from Nielsen.

The ads, which once focused on treatments for chronic but generally nonfatal conditions, have turned to more serious ailments in the last few years, said Thomas Lom, a consultant and former senior executive at several health care ad agencies.


A still from an ad for the drug Enbrel, which is used to treat some forms of arthritis.


“In the old days, it was allergies and acid reflux and what not,” he said. “Now, it’s cardiology issues. It’s cancer.”

That, of course, reflects the medical issues facing audiences that skew older.

“The drug companies aren’t generally marketing to people in their 30s; they’re marketing to the 65 plus, and that’s the population that tends to still be watching television,” said Allen Adamson, a brand strategy consultant.

And when the ads come on, that audience is also listening intently to all that can befall them if they take a certain drug. An unexpected side effect of ad agency compliance with the drug administration’s regulation, it turns out, is enhanced credibility.

“It’s counterintuitive, but everything in our research suggests that hearing about the risks increases consumers’ belief in the advertising,” said Jeff Rothstein, the chief executive officer of Cult Health, an ad agency that specializes in health care.

As Howard Courtemanche, president of the health and wellness practice at Young & Rubicam, put it, “What is seemingly a negative to people who don’t have a condition or disease is a positive to people who suffer from it because…

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