Prescription for Success: TV, Search & Pharma
26 February 2018 • tvsquared
Meg Coyle, Content Director
Meg Coyle,
Content Director

Here in the U.S., pharma TV ads are a mainstay. But that isn’t the case for most of the world – the U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries that allow pharma ads on TV.

With growing privacy and regulatory concerns around digital, it’s not surprising that pharma relies heavily on TV for marketing. More than 771,000 drug ads ran in 2016, which was a 65% increase vs. 2012. Last year, $3.45 billion was spent on TV ads in the U.S. – up by $330 million from 2016. Some estimates even put TV spend at 60%+ of the industry’s total marketing outlay.

With the FDA approving more drugs than ever before, competition in an already fierce market is at a fever pitch, and TV spend is expected to continue to rise because of it.

Let’s take a closer look at why pharma brands use TV as a marketing channel, and how they’re incorporating search into the mix to maximize response.

TV Works for Pharma

Pharma companies are not just throwing dollars at TV and hoping it works. Educational, persuasive and memorable drug ads have proven effective among consumers who want more information, transparency and choices for their healthcare.

In fact, a recent Wharton study found that a 10% boost in TV ad exposure increased the number of prescriptions purchased by 5%. It also discovered that TV ads increased drug adherence by 2%.

When it comes to reaching a target audience too, TV just makes sense. According to Quintiles, people aged 50+ account for 70% of all dispensed prescriptions. Now, where this gets more interesting is that this generation is the only one that actually watches more TV now than it did a few years ago.

What Do They Measure?

Advertisers have traditionally used TV’s reach to create brand awareness. And this is certainly still important, but second-screen devices have turned TV into a driver of immediate digital response as well. For brands with low-consideration products that want to drive online sales or promote app downloads, using TV to drive short-term response makes sense. But what about for pharma? It’s not exactly an industry where consumers can go online and order prescription drugs at the swipe of a smartphone.

Brand awareness is still huge for pharma – companies want consumers to remember and mention drugs during doctor visits days, weeks or months down the line. But we’re increasingly seeing pharma measure, for lack of a better term, middle-of-the-funnel activities to gauge TV’s success.

These are things like 800-number calls, “text for more information,” or website visits – for both corporate sites and condition-specific sites designed to educate. We’ve also seen calls-to-action driving viewers to “savings offers,” a response that can easily be measured. And then there’s search …

TV & Search

According to Google, TV and search rank as two of the most influential marketing channels for consumers visiting healthcare-related sites. And pharma has taken note, spending $1.8 billion on search this year.

TV is a primary driver of search, with the majority of searches taking place within the minutes after a TV spot aired. Securing the top search position, especially in those critical minutes, gives brands the highest click-through rates (by far). For example, the top spot on Google gets 36.4% of all traffic, 83% higher than the second position.

To take advantage of this synergy, pharma companies are syncing TV spots with their search campaigns to not only maximize and capture response, but also to ensure efficiency of spend. We’re even seeing brands sync their search with competitors’ TV spots – taking TV-driven traffic away from them! (I’d encourage you to check out recent blog posts to find out more about the TV-search relationship.)


To learn more about how pharma can measure and optimize TV, download the Pharma Industry Insights report.