Already this year, it's come under the type of scrutiny in Washington no business wants, as Congress wrestles with providing a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare users.
Some politicos feel drug costs would come down if drug companies trimmed their ad spending. That, in turn, led to the theory that marketers might slow spending in an election year in order to try and ease out of the limelight.
Meanwhile, several potential blockbusters have been slow to come to market. Cialis, made by Eli Lilly & Co. and Icos and a challenger for Pfizer's Viagra, has been delayed, along with Merck & Co.'s arthritis drug Arcoxia. And it's unclear when AstraZeneca's cholesterol-lowerer Crestor will launch.
"The first quarter in `02 looked very strong," said Steve Gigliotti, senior VP-ad sales at Scripps Networks. "My bet is that we will see the real strength in the pharmaceutical category in the first three quarters of 2003 when a lot of new products are expected."