Dealing with Health as an Advertising Category

Health issues are frequently at the forefront of people’s concerns, both for personal reasons and as a matter of civic discourse. New medical treatments, and new pharmaceuticals seem to appear with increasing frequency, attracting the interest of patients and their families. The gradual implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues to be a topic of much public discussion, as consumers deal with insurers and navigate the cost matrix.

It is no secret that the health care industry is a significant part of the U.S. economy, accounting for about 18% of the gross domestic product. What is less readily apparent is that the treatment of chronic diseases drives much of the spending. Three out of four dollars spent on health care are for the treatment of chronic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A surprisingly large proportion of Americans—at least half—suffer from one chronic medical condition, and one-fourth has two or more chronic ailments.

Arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are among the most common of these conditions, with heart disease and cancer responsible for nearly half (48%) of all deaths.

With such a substantial part of the population afflicted, the health care industry devotes considerable amounts of investment in paid media to communicate. For example, according to data collected by Kantar Media, pharmaceutical manufacturers spent more than $3.8 billion in advertising across 16 media types in 2013.

Some prescription drug manufacturers invest large dollar amounts in newspaper print advertising. Kantar Media data, measuring advertising spending in over 100 newspapers, shows that the top half-dozen prescription drug brands accounted for nearly all the $116 million dollars in the prescription drug category for local newspapers in 2013 (see table).

However, that $116.6 million represents only 3% of the more than $3.8 billion spent in measured media. Local hospitals, clinics and medical centers are by far the largest health care advertisers in local newspapers, spending more than $388 million in 2013.

Nevertheless, prescription drugs can be an opportunity for newspaper media within the set of media options. For pharmaceuticals, newspapers are a targeted option, delivering strong reach and a credible environment that both prescription and non-prescription drug brands seek. Most newspapers provide dedicated health content in print and online on a weekly basis, where advertising can be placed next to content where reader interest is high.

Kantar’s MARS DTC/OTC consumer study in 2012 reported that newspaper readers are 71% more likely to discuss a health care advertisement with their doctor than the overall population. Additionally, the study noted that newspaper readers are 37% more likely to visit a pharmaceutical company’s website after viewing a pharmaceutical ad.

In a multiplatform world, newspaper media options of print and/or digital offer methods for reaching particular segments of those suffering with various ailments. Both offer advantages, depending on the specific medical condition.


Source: Scarborough Research, USA+, 2013. 

The table above demonstrates the advantage of newspaper media. For example, consumers who have visited a newspaper website in the past month are 12% more likely to have purchased allergy medication in the past year than the typical allergy medication purchaser. Likewise, those who have used a mobile device—smartphone or tablet—for newspaper content in the past month are 15% more likely to have purchased allergy medication in the past year than the typical allergy medication purchaser.

The print newspaper advantage, for example, is demonstrated by the fact that the average daily newspaper reader is 20% more likely to have purchased medication for arthritis in the past year than the overall set in the population who purchased that medication. For Sunday newspaper readers, the figure was 17% more likely to have made arthritis medication purchases.


Source: Scarborough Research, USA+, 2013.

These data can help create a conversation with health care advertisers in local markets, with pharmaceutical marketers, private practices, and local hospitals, among others. These data can also be used in conjunction with health events in local markets and even for use with special health sections in the newspaper and on the newspaper’s digital platforms.

Newspaper media are excellent vehicles for delivering a healthy message.


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