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How are Vaccine Makers and Pharmacies Advertising?

How are Vaccine Makers and Pharmacies Advertising?

“Which shot did you get?”


“Oh, cool, I got Pfizer.” 

Consumers now talk about pharmaceutical companies just as casually as they talk about the weather. Prior to the pandemic, most consumers didn’t even know that Johnson & Johnson produced pharmaceutical drugs in addition to baby products.

With 60% of the adult population in the U.S. fully vaccinated, we are well familiar with the names of the three companies offering vaccines.

These companies have brought in significant revenue over the past year. But they haven’t had to advertise the vaccines that they sell. For the most part, the CDC and the Ad Council efforts were responsible for public health communication.

But that doesn’t mean that Moderna, Pfizer and J&J aren’t advertising. How much are they spending and what drugs are they promoting?

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The push for more vaccinations means revenue 

U.S. political leaders and public health officials have been trying to encourage the remaining eligible Americans to receive their shots for months. Now, we’re now seeing a transition from incentives to requirements. 

President Biden announced that federal workers and contractors would be required to get vaccinated or be routinely tested and wear masks while working. This is likely to lead to businesses following suit. 

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, businesses can require employees to be vaccinated with exceptions being granted for religious and medical reasons. The Justice Department has also clarified in a memo that this includes vaccines only approved for emergency purposes. 

As the government and businesses begin to require vaccinations, along with the spread of more contagious variants, the pharmaceutical companies’ sales are expected to increase. 

Pfizer is projecting $33.5 billion in revenue from vaccine sales this year. If sales stay on pace, they will outsell some of the top selling drugs, including AbbVie’s Humira immunosuppressive therapy and Merck’s cancer fighter Keytruda.

Moderna reported $1.7 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2021 from vaccine sales, which marked the company’s first profit-ever quarterly profit.

Johnson & Johnson, which has promised not to take a profit from sales, estimates that it will sell $2.5 billion worth of vaccines this year. 

While these companies are on track to generate significant revenue, their ad spend is not focused on vaccinations. 

Instead it has been the Ad Council coordinating public service announcements.

The Ad Council brought together more than 300 brands, community leaders, media companies, medical experts and other trusted sources to collaborate on its “It’s Up to You” campaign. With more than $52 million worth of donations, this public health push is its largest yet. 

Pfizer was the only company to specifically advertise and generate content promoting the Covid-19 vaccine. While Pfizer arguably came out on top when it came to vaccine branding, they’re dedicated ad spend towards the vaccine was only a sliver of overall spending. 

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When we look at the big picture, these three companies have spent $328 million on advertising this year so far, up 8% from the same period in 2020.

As mentioned, Pfizer is the only one of the three that has specifically advertised the Covid-19 vaccine. But its ad spending on the vaccine isn’t huge. Last month (July 2021), Pfizer created a small digital campaign. The spend accounted for less than 1% of all ad spending in July (projected to be about $75.3 million).

Instead of promoting the vaccine, these companies are focused on promoting their Psoriasis, Arthritis, Blood Clot and Breast Cancer prescription drugs. 

In terms of formats, these companies moved investments from television and print into digital advertising. 

In 2020, this group spent $65.8 million in digital advertising. This increased by 40% this year. In 2021 so far, they’ve spent $92.1 million. In comparison, print and tv ad spend fell by 16% and 12% respectively.


In addition to the Ad Council and Pfizer, pharmacies also promoted vaccine distribution.

Pharmacy Ad Spend Jan-July, 2020 vs 2021 Chart

Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walmart pharmacies are the top spenders this year, investing $117mm into print, television and digital campaigns. Their spend makes up 79% of all spend from pharmacies and drug stores, which totals $147mm in 2021 (January – July).

Pharmacy total spend in 2020 over the same period (January – July) totaled $225mm.

Since April (when the vaccine was available to the general public), some related creative appeared from these retailers:

  • CVS had their #OneStepCloser TV campaign
  • Walgreens used digital advertising to invite consumers to sign up for their rewards program so that they could receive updates about Covid statistics in their area.
  • Rite-Aid asked medical professionals to “become a home-town hero” to help administer the vaccine in their communities.
Rite Aid Digital Ad Example
Walgreens Covid vaccine digital ad example
Rite Aid Become a Hometown Hero Digital Ad Example

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