Heavy-Duty Focus On Loss: Pharma Firms Spent $1.5B On Diabetes/Weight Ads

Celebrity use and news coverage -- perhaps best exemplified by last week’s ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey show, which gave pharma companies a ton of free exposure -- have helped drive the sale of  prescription weight loss drugs to soaring heights. But let’s not forget the role of TV advertising.

Ad spend for the increasingly overlapping categories of diabetes and weight loss drugs rose 51% in 2023 to $1.5 billion, accounting for nearly 20% of pharma’s total $7.6 billion spend, reports MediaRadar. And a vast majority of that was spent on increasing number of national TV ads, while online video and digital display showed declines.

Diabetes drugs made up the bulk of the combined diabetes/weight loss spend in 2023, up 14% from 2022 to $787 million.  Weight loss drugs spent $263.9 million -- an astronomical 52 times more than was spent in 2022.



Part of the reason for that increase could be attributed to new drugs like Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy coming onto the market -- but the momentum shows no signs of slowing down in 2024. For the first two months of the year, weight loss spend skyrocketed again, to 125 times more than a year earlier: $32.3 million. Yet diabetes spend in January/February decreased 28% year-over-year, to $87.3 million.

Combined sales of diabetes and weight loss drugs may be decreasing due to the “ongoing supply shortage of popular medications like Ozempic and Wegovy,” Todd Krizelman, co-founder and CEO of MediaRadar, tells Marketing Daily.

“The increasing demand for these drugs is also being influenced by celebrity endorsement and a constant presence in the news,” Krizelman continues. “This has led to a situation where manufacturers are unable to keep up with the supply. As a result, pharmaceutical companies have likely reduced their advertising efforts for these medications while they focus on managing the limited supply and ensuring that current patients have access to their prescribed treatments.”

Novo Nordisk led the diabetes/weight loss ad spending in 2023 with $263 million spent on Wegovy, $208 million on Ozempic and $199 million on Rybelsus. The next highest spenders were Eli Lilly/ Boehringer Ingelheim’s Jardiance at $148 million, Lilly’s Mounjaro at $139 million and AstraZeneca/Bristol Myers Squibb’s Farxiga at $68 million.

Combined, MediaRadar says, those six brands spent 69% more than in 2022, and in the first two months of 2024 have spent $118.9 million, “driving 99% of diabetes & weight loss spending.”

That spending –--with the exception of Rybelsius, which favors online video ads -- is overwhelmingly on national TV, which accounted for 88% of the six brands’ ad spend last year, the researcher says.

That number was at 87% -- or $104 million -- for the first two months of this year, MediaRadar adds, representing a 46% YoY increase.

“On the other hand, online video spending is down 81% YoY to nearly $8 million, with Ozempic (down 97% YoY) and Rybelsus (down 82% YoY) scaling back investment in the format,” MediaRadar stated. “Digital display ads dipped 61% YoY so far to $3 million as Mounjaro and Ozempic among others reduced spending, although there has been a 150% YoY uptick by Jardiance in this format.”

The top two pharma spending categories so far in 2024 are psoriasis and arthritis, with the former up 9% YoY to  $146.2 million and the latter down 10% YoY to $91.1 million.

And weight loss, up 125-fold so far in 2024 following its 52X rise in 2023, isn’t even the fastest rising pharma category. That honor goes to menopause medication, whose spend was 479 times more in 2023, to $45.2 million, and had already reached $34.1 million in Janaury/February, a 493x increase.

Other rapid risers are respiratory, up 55 times more in 2023 to $174.1 million, and Crohn’s Disease, up 31x to $225.2 million.

The top 15 pharma spending categories – the seven already mentioned, along with eight others (asthma, HIV/AIDS, migraine, bipolar disorder, lung cancer, depression, cosmetics procedures,  central nervous system) -- together made up 63% of all prescription drug spending in 2023 – totaling $4.8 billion, up 20% from 2022.

For the 15 top prescription categories, ad spend so far this year is at nearly $890 million, a collective 17% YoY increase from the $762 million from the first two months of 2023.

Total pharma spending in 2023 was about $7.6 billion, flat from 2022.

MediaRadar’s numbers come from analyzing a sampling of prescription drugs’ ad spend from national TV broadcasts, print publications and newspapers from top DMA’s, as well as online channels like websites, OTT channels, podcasts, social platforms, and YouTube.

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