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Digital Advertising Trends in 2020: Pharmaceutical Companies Stay the Course

November 29 2020 by Sarah Fleishman

Pharmaceutical companies have a strong reputation for delivering predictable ads featuring people smiling in meadows and cottages as a cheerful voice glosses over side effects. While they used to receive little attention outside of the doctor’s office, pharmaceutical companies have now taken center stage as media outlets cover the development timelines of an anxiously anticipated Coronavirus vaccine.

As consumer attention on pharmaceutical companies has shifted in the last two quarters of 2020, have the companies’ advertising strategies reciprocated this shift? Let’s take a look in Pathmatics Explorer to find out.

Pharmaceutical Industry Advertising Trends at Large

Unsurprisingly, the trope of the pharmaceutical video ad isn’t unfounded in digital advertising during the pandemic. The largest category for ads in pharma and healthcare is desktop video, with desktop display and Facebook trailing behind. Taking a look at the pool of creatives in this industry, many Facebook and Instagram ads also feature videos.


Based on both ad spend and ad impressions, the top three advertisers in this space since the beginning of Q3 2020 in July are Eli Lilly and Company, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline.


Of the companies listed in the top 30 advertisers, Pfizer is the only pharmaceutical company that’s currently reported to be working on a vaccine for COVID-19. Its counterpart AstraZeneca takes the 34th spot, and Moderna does not appear on the top advertiser list.

Ads Acknowledging the Pandemic

Interestingly, among all the companies mentioned so far in this post, only one has run an ad creative that even vaguely acknowledges the pandemic and promoted it with enough budget to make its top 10 creatives list.


That company is Pfizer, and that ad is for Centrum vitamins. One could even argue that its reference to the pandemic is too vague to really count at all. The voiceover simply stresses that “Now is the time to focus on what matters most”—the viewer’s health and strong immune system.

Based on this lack of a pandemic response from the top pharmaceutical company advertisers, it looks like the industry is content to stick with what they know in the world of digital advertising.

Perhaps with the knowledge that the world is watching and eagerly awaiting a vaccine anyway, they’ve decided to keep relying on media outlets to circulate news of the vaccine development updates —and stoke consumer interest in pharmaceutical companies in the process.

The data in this blog post was compiled using Pathmatics Explorer and spans from July 1, 2020, to November 23, 2020.

About Author
Sarah Fleishman

With over a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.

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