HIV Drug Ad Spending Up or Down?
A Changing Market?
Peebles blames it on the market. "It's just not the same economic opportunity it once was," he says.
"What worked a few years ago doesn't work now," he says. "It's unclear to me what role the economy plays but it is more product lifecycle-driven than macro-economy driven.
"There was such a large explosion of ads because that's where the epidemic was at the time and where treatment was. There were lots of patients ready for that combination. It's Marketing 101 the companies were seeking a return on their investment. Fast forward to today, where there are more and more drugs competing for a smaller and smaller number of patients. Suddenly, there are choices."
The FDA issued a warning to drug marketers criticizing some of their ads for using images ranging from "robust individuals engaged in strenuous physical activity to healthy-looking individuals," concluding that the ads were "misleading because they imply greater efficacy than demonstrated by substantial evidence or minimize the risks associated with HIV drugs."
Indeed, once common images of muscular guys hiking and biking have given way to a series of everyday-looking people contemplating their conditions. One advertising industry executive now speculates that those attacks caused some advertisers to pack up and leave.
Howard Buford, president of New York-based Prime Access, which has handled a number of drug company clients, says, "I've been in meetings regarding HIV medications and they were skittish of going forward with advertising to meet the demands of community groups. There was a fear of severe criticism, regardless of the direction they took the advertising."
Other Publications Stay Flush
According to publisher Joe Landry, HIV drug ad spending "started off slowly in 2002, but picked up momentum in [the second half of the year] ending above 2001" total revenues. He adds that there are "no long term signs that things have been adversely affected."
The early part of this year is "producing nicely," Landry says, but the highly secretive drug advertisers have offered no long term commitments, "so I have no idea what's in store for the remainder of 2003." Recent issues of his magazines carry ads for GlaxoSmithKline's Combivir featuring Magic Johnson (along with a similar looking HIV education campaign), Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Sustiva, and Abbott Laboratories' Kaletra.
General media spending for some brands has fallen, but more are modestly up. Bristol-Myers' four-year-old Sustiva, which once carried unique ads depicting a gay male marriage, slipped to $600,000 in ad support from $710,000 in 2001, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Glaxo Wellcome's two-year-old Trizivir (a combination of previous brands Retrovir, Epivir and Ziagen) fell from nearly $1 million in 2001 to $216,000 last year.
Few Non-HIV Drugs Reach Gay Media
Peebles says he thinks today's HIV ads are "more appropriate, but I miss the aspirational aspect. There seems to be a lot of people standing around 'thinking' it's a long way from those trippy images of molecules they started out with."
POZ carried a cover story in 2001 about the ad imagery issue, Peebles says. "What was upsetting was a positive image of an HIV-positive person was considered a threat to prevention. We got into the absurd situation of what a 'true' image of a person with HIV should look like. People take sexual risks for all sorts of reasons, and I think it's simplistic to think that it is based on ad imagery."
Mike Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see www.CommercialCloset.org.