Feb 12, 2024 - Health

Pharma showed up for the big game

Illustration of a person throwing a football, but their head is a TV with a hypnotic pattern.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Menopause is in, toenail fungus is out.

The big picture: A 60-second ad for Astellas' new menopause treatment for hot flashes aired just before Super Bowl kickoff yesterday, while Pfizer had some of history's greatest scientists rocking out to Queen to promote its cancer work.

Zoom in: The spot from Astellas, which also ran an ad in last year's big game to raise awareness of hot flashes from menopause, helped elevate an issue that's long been overlooked but is gaining more attention.

  • Pfizer's ad underscored the importance of its recent $43 billion acquisition of Seagen, a leader in oncology drugs, to lift a company that's struggled since COVID-19 product sales fell off.

Zoom out: At over $6 billion annually, drug advertising is big business in the U.S., the only country besides New Zealand that allows pharma to pitch its wares directly to consumers.

  • Despite that, the Super Bowl hasn't always been a big draw for drugmakers, partly because the ad format, with the requisite long list of possible side effects, often doesn't play well on TV's biggest stage, Stat previously posited.
  • About a decade ago, a poorly received ad for toe fungus treatment Jublia — featuring an animated toe decked out in a football helmet tackling fungus on the gridiron — was perhaps a low point for the form.
  • Despite the ick factor, some research found that the Super Bowl ad did help boost sales for Jublia, if not viewers' appetites.
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