Philadelphia, PA – Do prescription drug ads increase utilization and adherence? With direct-to-consumer advertising under the microscope for prescription drugs, Abby Alpert, a Wharton health care management professor, recently reveled the results of her latest research that could help reshape the market.

The over $4 billion spent on pharmaceutical advertising annually has vaulted the category as one of the largest with regards to television. Abbey’s team set out to see the impact these ads have on overall drug utilization and adherence. And the results are very interesting.  Here are a couple of highlights:

  • 10% increase in advertising exposure increased the number of prescriptions purchased by 5% (70% by new initiation – 30% due to adherence) and the rate of drug adherence by 1% – 2%.
  • People who intiate drug treatement because of advertising are less compliant with treatement.
  • Significant increase in drug utilization driven by advertising is actually for non-advertised drugs (lower-cost generics and off-patent brands).

You can watch Abby’s discussion and the entire transcript below:

Abby’s teams’ next project: dive deep into prescription drugs advertising’s overall effect on health.


Why This Matters:

While most agencies have a bead on overall ROI for their brands, Abby’s research gives a good view into the overall effect of not only what an increase in advertising does for purchased drugs, but also what the ads do for adherence within existing populations.


This research also shows a significant gap between what was expected and what happened. We create an ad to increase sales or adherence for said drug and in turn it increases utilization for the whole drug class. Not a huge issue if it is helping more people nonetheless but you would be hard pressed to find one brand manager that would agree this is what she or he expected when developing their 2017 advertising budget.

Perhaps this research will help us understand that a more targeted consumer messaging approach is needed or clearer patient benefits to health care professionals avoiding the prescription of a lower-cost generic and/or off-patent brands than the one requested.

In the end it is a great sign that yes, prescription drug ads to increase utilization and adherence but as any research shows us, there is always room for improvement.

Article Credit: Katie Beller, SVP/Group Creative Director for GSW

About the Author:

As Strategist of Innovation, Drew is charged daily with championing innovative thinking and doing. Drew is part of a global team that leads new innovative ideas that attract different advocates among existing and potential brands that are shared across all agency partners. Drew is backed by over 16 years of brand, sales and marketing experience with Fortune 500 companies such as Progressive and Nationwide Insurance as well as Founder & President of his own healthcare insurance agency for 6 years. Most recently Drew was part of the agency team that launched Briviact for UCB, Foundation Medicine as well as key roles with Eli Lilly Oncology and Johnson & Johnson.