Democratic politicians made a few jabs at the pharmaceutical industry at their convention this week, but viewers tuning in at home saw something of a counterargument during commercial breaks: a stream of ads promoting drugs — and the drug industry.
Pfizer, for instance, ran 25 ads across all six major networks carrying the Democratic National Convention, according to the media research firm iSpot.tv.
Some of those ads promoted Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. But others took a more unusual tack, emphasizing how hard it is to make medicines by tallying how many protein structures must be counted and sleepless nights endured before a new drug makes it to market. (Pfizer took out a full-page ad with a similar message in the New York Times as the convention kicked off on Monday.)
BIO, one of the big drug industry trade groups, offered a similar message about the importance of the pharmaceutical industry to delegates and dignitaries at the convention. An emotional video heralding the power of prescription drugs to extend lives played on the jumbotron at a charity batting practice Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Both Pfizer and BIO’s campaigns come as the makers of prescription drugs face blowback for spending more than $5 billion a year on advertising, up from $3 billion four years ago.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has called for ending tax breaks for drug advertising and requiring drug ads to get cleared by federal regulators as a means of bringing down drug spending. During her speech Thursday, she highlighted “the cost of your prescription drugs” as one of the issues she wants to dive deeply into. Bernie Sanders, her rival during the primary, denounced “the greed of the drug companies” in his speech endorsing Clinton on Monday.
Aside from the Pfizer campaigns, other ads in heavy circulation included a spot for Celgene’s psoriasis drug Otezla, which ran 13 times on CNN and MSNBC. Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Victoza and AbbVie’s blockbuster drug Humira were also advertised heavily on MSNBC.
All told, about 140 TV ads touting prescription and over-the-counter medicines and their manufacturers ran while the Democratic National Convention was airing on broadcast and cable networks, according to iSpot.tv.
By comparison, about 80 such ads aired across networks during the Republican National Convention last week, the iSpot data show. But it’s hard to say whether drug advertisers made a bigger push this week, since coverage was scheduled differently.
This story was updated with additional data about ads that ran during the RNC.