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How contraceptive brands are increasing online advertising since SCOTUS overturned Roe v. Wade

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As discussion over the future of abortion access in the U.S. continues, manufacturers of popular birth control and contraceptive methods have ramped up advertising across social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok along with various streaming platforms.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, brands such as Plan B, Phexxi and Favor have in some cases doubled or even quadrupled online advertising to reach and educate consumers while also combatting misinformation about women’s health. The numbers also show how spending changed in the weeks after the high court’s decision and paint a picture of the online battleground beyond the main topic of abortion.

During the first half of this year, ad spending for birth control and contraceptives was 130% higher than the same period last year, according to the ad-tracking firm MediaRadar, exceeding $144.7 million between $120 million for birth control brands and another $25 million for contraceptives. Year-over-year monthly spending has also been higher in 2022, according to MediaRadar: Total advertising in May was $34.7 million—more than double the $14.5 million spent in May 2021—and advertising in June increased to $30.3 million from $13.3 million in June 2021.

Increased spending

Last month, a group of 13 top contraceptive advertisers nearly doubled their spending from $2.74 million in June to $5.25 million in July, according to data provided by Pathmatics, which tracks spending across social media, OTT devices and other formats such as mobile display and desktop video ads. The week after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, advertisers collectively spent just $552,000 before spending $1.3 million a week later and $2.78 million the week after that.

Several major contraceptive companies spent more on advertising in the second quarter of 2022 than in the first quarter, according to the Pathmatics data. For example, Foundation Consumer Healthcare—the maker of Plan B—increased ad spending from $2.2 million in the first quarter of 2022 to $2.734 million. AbbVie Inc. increased ad spending for Lo Loestrin from $997,000 to $1.46 million. TherapeuticsMD, which owns Annovera, nearly doubled spending from $484,000 to $958,000 and Evofem Biosciences increased spending for Phexxi from $103,000 to $202,000. (Digiday reached out to each company for comment and additional context about spending shifts but did not get a reply.)

Another company that has increased advertising is Favor, the direct-to-consumer birth control provider that rebranded from The Pill Club earlier this year. Although the company wouldn’t disclose its ad spending, data from Pathmatics showed Favor quintupled spending from $72,000 in the first quarter to $415,000 in the second quarter.

In addition to out-of-home ads focused on states most likely impacted by the court’s ruling, Favor worked with dozens of influencers to address audiences nationally—moving beyond their typical lifestyle content creators by recruiting more people who could address social issues. For example, Favor worked with comedian Liz Plank, lawyer Alicia Luncheon and app developer Sofia Ongele to interview random people about reproductive rights and post the videos on TikTok and Instagram.

“We wanted to point out the absurdity of a stranger making a decision on behalf of your body by asking politicians or regular men on the street to be mandated to get vasectomies,” Lauren Scrima, Favor’s head of marketing, said in an interview. “What if you didn’t have a choice? Because it’s a similar concept to what we are seeing with abortion rights.”

Top spending for contraceptive advertising by platform, according to Pathmatics data

  • OTT ads: $7.6 million
  • Facebook: $4.4 million
  • Instagram: $3.7 million
  • TikTok: $2.3 million
  • Snapchat: $2.2 million

Bayer Healthcare, which owns Kyleena, also doubled ad spending from $681,000 in the first quarter to $1.38 million in the second quarter, according to data from Pathmatics. However, from May to June, spending declined from $624,000 to $441,000. Although Bayer declined an interview, a spokesperson said in an email that the company is “deeply committed to inclusion, diversity, equity and access” and that “the importance of contraception access and education is a year-round focus of our advertising strategy.”

So far, much of the discussion since the court’s ruling has focused on abortion access, but University of California-Irvine law professor Michelle Goodwin said there hasn’t been enough attention on how the outcome could impact other issues such as contraceptive access. The author of the 2020 book, “Policing The Womb,” Goodwin said companies that make and sell products like IUDs and Plan B have a vested interest in making sure the public is properly informed about their safety and effectiveness. Plus, potential bans on contraceptives in various states have been “an alarm bell” for companies that provide them.

“It’s as if there were a Supreme Court decision about gas vehicles but somehow gives a hint that it may also ban certain forms of electric vehicles,” Goodwin said.

Tackling misinformation and other topics

Although some industries can quickly create new marketing messages that adapt to current events, it’s not as easy for the highly regulated pharmaceutical brands that are required to receive FDA approval for every ad they want to run.

Andrea Palmer, president of Publicis Health Media, said some contraceptive advertisers are moving money to be on TikTok and other platforms where people are talking about women’s health topics like abortion and contraception. Along with embracing cultural conversations, she said the marketing also helps fight misinformation about the topics: “You can find YouTube videos to support anything—it’s frightening.”

“Misinformation has been a hot topic and a hot button topic over the past couple of years,” Palmer said. “And while that’s not surprising, it’s amplified the need for brand marketers to think about how the money should follow the conversation.”

Misinformation has been a growing concern for marketers, women’s health advocates and researchers alike. For example, a recent report by NewsGuard found more than 100 abortion-related misinformation videos on TikTok that had gained around 18 million people and more than 3 million likes. Analysts also found examples of accounts finding ways around TikTok’s censors or through showing up in Google searches.

Not every contraceptive maker has ramped up. Brands that pulled back during the second quarter included Merck & Co., which decreased ad spending for Nexplanon from $1.5 million to $879,000 and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries decreased spending for its Paragard brand from $759,000 to $547,000.

Perhaps one of the more noteworthy shifts so far this year was by Trojan condom owner Church & Dwight Co. According to Digiday’s analysis of Pathmatics’ data, Trojan spent $2.1 million on advertising in the first quarter of 2022 but just $99,000 in the second quarter and $142,000 in July. (The company did not respond to a request for comment about its ad spending or marketing strategy.)

There are also questions still unanswered about how the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion could make room for states to ban various forms of contraceptive advertising. Goodwin, the UCI law professor, also noted other Supreme Court cases from the 1970s decided just a few years after Roe v. Wade. For example, a landmark 1977 ruling in Carey v. Population Services International declared it was unconstitutional for the state of New York to ban contraceptive advertising.

“One troubling aspect of these times is that in the wake of Dobbs, there is so much that is going to be re-sorted,” she said.

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