"Ask Your Doctor": How Medical Television Commercials Faded In The Early Pandemic

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The timeline below tracks the seconds of daily airtime in which the phrase "ask your doctor" is visible in the onscreen text. This phrase typically appears at the end of drug and medical device commercials for a second or two, meaning 75 seconds of airtime likely equates to a few dozen commercials. It is important to recognize, however, that this is just one of many phrases used by medical commercials, so these results are not definitive and could reflect changes to the composition of medical advertisers rather than a decrease overall of such ads.

Nonetheless, looking at the graph below, appearances of this phase collapse beginning March 31 as lockdowns began to extend and it was clear that the pandemic would not be immediately passing, reaching a lowpoint on April 3. Ads began a resurgence in early June as attention shifted from the pandemic to the George Floyd protests and largely recovered to a level slightly below its prepandemic levels. Levels dropped again in the days leading up to Christmas and have not fully recovered yet.

This suggests that medical advertisers may have shifted their advertising as the pandemic became entrenched and it became clear that hospitals would be largely focused on the pandemic for the time being.

GDELT Project