Big Pharma Lobbying Group Debuts National Campaign

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After a year when pricing scandals thrust the drug-making industry into the spotlight, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is debuting a new campaign designed to highlight lifesaving innovation and science. The "Go Boldly" campaign, the lobbying group's first national effort in recent years, will include TV, print, digital, radio and out-of-home advertising.

The first of four TV spots slated for 2017 includes a voiceover of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night," as video showcases scientists and researchers working on medical treatments. The campaign is costing PhRMA tens of millions of dollars each year and is expected to last at least three years, according to a spokeswoman.

"Now is the time to have a critical and necessary conversation about how to sustain and promote medical innovation," said Holly Campbell, senior director of public affairs at Washington D.C.-based PhRMA. She noted that the group's most recent campaign, "Hope to cures," was a regional effort. The new work will include national educational events as part of a public affairs push as well.

Of course, 2016, which saw public outcry over prices for life-saving medical products like Mylan's EpiPen, was not kind to pharmaceutical brands. In addition, uncertainty surrounds political funding for research centers such as the National Institutes of Health. Ms. Campbell said that the new campaign, which was created by WPP's health and wellness group, and led by an internal pharma partnership with creative by Y&R, was in the works over six months ago.

Critics wondered at the implications.

"A good deal of basic research is done by NIH and other government agencies, which no doubt will see less funding in the future," said John Mack, who runs electronic newsletter Pharma Marketing News. "PhRMA should be focusing on that rather that the research its scientists do."

Recent reports have shown that pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than on research and development, experts noted. In 2015, the medicine and remedies category, which includes over-the-counter, spent $9.5 billion on measured media, 14% more than in 2014, according to Ad Age's Datacenter.

Adrienne Faerber, associate director of academic affairs and lecturer at the Dartmouth Institute, noted that previous campaigns from PhRMA, like the "Hope to cures" effort, carried a similar message.

"The ads consistently emphasize how the pharmaceutical industries are turning science into lifesaving treatments," she said. "However, this message contradicts the real work of the modern pharmaceutical companies who spend less on scientists working in laboratories and more on marketing and patent protection, and engaging in buying up small biotechnology companies."

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