It’s ironic that at the same time that experts and pharma insiders are talking about the golden age of DTC being behind us (see, for example, “Dead DTC Golden Goose and Other Pharma Fears“), the drug industry has outpaced all other industries in ramping up ad spending in 2006, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

“The pharmaceutical industry spent $719 million more on DTC TV, radio, magazines and newspaper ads in 2006 than in 2005, Nielsen Monitor-Plus data showed. The industry was the ‘fastest growing’ major media consumer ad category in 2006, with a 14.9% percent increase over the previous year, Nielsen Monitor-Plus said.” (Source: MM&M Newsbrief.)

I chalk this up to the old maxim “spend it or lose it” or more accurately, “spend it while you can.”

Or could it be that a few brands and categories — Gardasil, sleep aids — accounted for all the increase and then some, offsetting decreases across the board? Let’s look at the numbers.

According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus: “The Pharmaceutical industry was the fastest growing in terms of percent increase over last year (14.9%) and in terms of actual dollar increase ($719 million). Pfizer increased spending 32% ($158 million), while Merck and Sepracor each increased their budgets 40%, $118 million and $95 million, respectively.” (See “U.S. Advertising Spending Rose 4.6% in 2006, Nielsen Monitor-Plus Reports“).

The three pharma companies mentioned that increased their spend dramatically contributed about $100 million to the total $719 million increase. Even if we add in Takeda’s purported $100 million ad spend for Rozerem (see “Spend $110 million for $76 million in sales?“), that’s just a fraction of the overall increase and therefore this spending spree is really industry wide rather than confined to a few outliers.

Johnson and Johnson bucked the trend, however, and decreased its ad spend a whopping 20%!

Here’s the data for the top 10 industry categories (click to enlarge):

Is all this ad spending worth it?
I’ve already noted the negative ROI of Takeda’s Rozerem DTC ad spend (see “Rozerem DTC Emperor (Still) Has No Clothes“).

For every 10 percent increase in advertising for a given type of medicine, prescription sales for the category rise 1 percent, according to a 2003 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (see “TV DTC Educate Little, Increase Sales Less“).

That was then. This is now:

“Global pharmaceutical sales grew 7% to $643 billion in 2006, according to IMS Health, while US drug sales were up 8.3% to $290.1 billion for the year, thanks to Medicare Part D and strong sales of specialty products — particularly oncologics and autoimmune agents” (see “Drug sales post healthy gains for 2006“).

In other words, increased sales can be attributed to non-marketing activities, namely Medicare Part D and biologics, which are not heavily advertised on TV. Centocor, for example, boasts that it’s Innerstate disease awareness feature length documentary costs much less than a full-blown DTC campaign (see “Innerstate: The First Disease Awareness Documentary Film“).

Ergo, I stand by my thesis that the drug industry is on a spending spree in anticipation of the spending drought to come.