Developing new drugs is an expensive process. As a result the pharmaceutical industry spends a lot on R&D (15% of turnover is not unusual and is higher than most other major industries: see report from the EFPIA). But the industries critics point out that they also spend a lot on marketing their products.

In Pharmageddon, for example, David Healey (a leading critic of the modern pharmaceutical industry) alleges the following:

Where the research and development budgets of large pharmaceutical companies like Lilly and Pfizer were once much greater than their marketing budgets, the reverse is now true. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, now spends $30 billion annually on marketing in the United States alone.

Is this true for most firms? How much do the big world-wide pharma firms spend on marketing compared to R&D?


One of the issues with the claim has been that public disclosure of the amounts spent on marketing and R&D are somewhat opaque. But this article in the Washington Post reproduces an analysis by León Markovitz that claims to unpick the numbers. His (not very good dataviz) chart is shown below:

dadaviz graphic sourced from Washington post

Unfortunately the links to the original analysis no longer seem to work. So we have an analysis that seems to reinforce the claim, but is it reliable or reproducible?

  • @sancho much as you have removed repetition and simplified the question, you have also removed useful context and rendered the question dull. In this case some of the things you removed were stylistic and unlikely to impede the clarity of the question being asked. I'm not going to roll back, yet, but I might reinsert some.
    – matt_black
    May 31, 2013 at 21:43
  • The claim and the question are simple. I didn't think the context helped to clarify, expand, or narrow the scope of the question. But it's your question, so insert back what you think is necessary.
    – user5582
    May 31, 2013 at 21:50
  • This might be a tough question to answer or very easy one depending upon how good the financial disclosures for the publicly traded companies are.
    – rjzii
    May 31, 2013 at 22:53
  • Something to consider that I found while reading through the Novartis 2012 Annual Report - from a pharmacuitical company standpoint "marketing" can apparently also mean the money that is spent for marketing authorization which is known to be expensive. If the clinical trials are being rolled into the "Marketing and Sales" costs then the number could be inflated.
    – rjzii
    Jun 3, 2013 at 15:52
  • @RobZ Not sure whether this depends on tax rules in different countries, but the phase 3 trials would normally count as R&D not marketing (and there are tax advantages for this in some countries).
    – matt_black
    Jun 3, 2013 at 20:27

1 Answer 1


In my opinion, the inconsistant use of the term "marketing" and the broad categories under which marketing activities are reported by pharmaceutical companies makes it difficult to conclude whether or not they spend more on marketing than on R&D.

The closest I have found to a certain answer is the case of Novartis, who spends more on marketing and sales than on R&D.

Financial statements


Pfizer spent $7,870 million on R&D in 2012. (Pfizer's 2012 financial statement, p. 25, 29)

Pfizer spent $16,616 million on "Selling, Informational, and Administrative" expenses in 2012. (Id. p. 29)

Pfizer says, "Among other things, these expenses include the internal and external costs of marketing, advertising, shipping and handling, information technology and legal defense. Advertising expenses totaled approximately $2.9 billion in 2012..." (Id. p. 61)

If you only count "advertising" as marketing, Pfizer is not spending more on marketing than R&D. If you allow other expenses to count as marketing, it is possible that the amount exceeds the amount spent on R&D. Given how this is reported by Pfizer, you can't answer this question by looking at the financial report.


Lilly spent $5,278 million on R&D in 2012. (Lilly's 2012 financial statement, p. 40)

Lilly spent $7,513 million on "Marketing, Selling, and Administrative" in 2012. (Id)

In my opinion, the ambiguity within the "Marketing, Selling and Administrative" category leaves it unknown if Lilly spends more on marketing than on R&D.


BMS spent $3,904 million on R&D in 2012. (BMS 2012 Annual Report, p. 14)

BMS spent $794 million on "Advertising and Product Promotion" in 2012. (Id.)

BMS spent $4,220 million on "Marketing, Selling, and Administrative" in 2012. (Id.)

In my opinion, the ambiguity in the "Marketing, Selling, and Administrative" category leaves it unknown if Bristol-Myers-Squibb spends more on marketing than on R&D.


Novartis spent $9,332 million on R&D in 2012. (Novartis 2012 Annual Report, p. 184)

Novartis spent $14,353 million on "Marketing and Sales" in 2012. (Id.)

Novartis spends more on marketing and sales than on R&D.


Bayer spends €2,932 million on R&D. (Bayer's 2012 Annual Report, p. 166)

Bayer spends €8,958 million on "Selling Expenses". (Id.)

Selling expenses is Bayer's category that includes "all expenses incurred in the reporting period for the sale, storage and transportation of saleable products, advertising, the provision of advice to customers, and market research". (Id., p. 213)

They break this down: €4,600 million in internal and external sales force, €2,273 million in advertising and customer advice, €1,322 million in warehousing and distribution, €680 million in commission and licencing expenses, and €1,112 on other selling expenses. (Id., p. 213)

In 2012, Bayer employed 12,992 people (full-time equivalents) classified as R&D, and 42,590 classified as "Marketing and distribution". (Id., p. 217)

In my opinion, this still results in ambiguity in the "Selling expenses" category, leaving it unknown if Bayer spends more on marketing than on R&D.

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson spent $7,665 million on R&D in 2012. (Johnson & Johnson 2012 Annual Report. p. 21)

Johnson & Johnson spent $20,869 million on "Selling, marketing, and administrative" in 2012. (Id.)

Johnson & Johnson's "Selling, marketing, and administrative" category includes $1,051 million in shipping and handling and $2.3 billion in advertising.

In my opinion, this still results in ambiguity in the "Selling, marketing, and administrative" category, leaving it unknown if Johnson & Johnson spends more on marketing than on R&D.

Third party claims

Sufrin, Carolyn B. MD, MA *; Ross, Joseph S. MD, MHS. Pharmaceutical Industry Marketing: Understanding Its Impact on Women’s Health. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey. 63(9):585-596, September 2008.

Pfizer, Merck, and Bristol-Myers-Squibb all spent a greater proportion of their total sales on marketing than they did on research and development.

Brezis, M. Big Pharma and Health Care: Unsolvable Conflict of Interests between Private Enterprise and Public Health. Isr J Psychiatry Relat Sci Vol 45 No. 2 (2008) 83–94

Budget for marketing is by far greater than for research.

The proportion of the budget spent on marketing is estimated at 36%, by far higher than the 11% devoted to research.

Analysis of the third party claims

Sufrin and Ross supported their statement by reference to the financial statements of Pfizer, Merck, and Bristol-Myers-Squibb from 2006.

I don't know how they came to this conclusion because neither Pfizer, Merck, nor Bristol-Myers-Squibb report "marketing" expenses. Pfizer reports "Selling, Informational, and Administrative" (Pfizer's 2006 Financial Report p. 37, 42). Merck reports "Marketing and Administrative" (Merck's 2008 Form 10-K p. 86, 142). Bristol-Myers-Squibb reports "Marketing, Selling, and Administrative" (Bristol-Myers-Squibb's 2006 Annual Report p. 53). Bristol-Myers-Squibb also report a separate expense category called "Advertising and Product Promotion" (Id. p. 25, 26, 53).

The statements I quoted from Brezis's paper were not supported by any references.

  • 2
    "Marketing, selling, and administrative" seems pretty broad, do they break things down more than that anywhere in the reports?
    – rjzii
    Jun 1, 2013 at 0:34
  • @RobZ Not other than that one paragraph from Pfizer's report that specifically separated advertising. The MS&A or SI&A category is a very broad category, but that is as detailed they break it down in those reports.
    – user5582
    Jun 1, 2013 at 1:09
  • and mind that "administrative" includes lawyers, the single biggest expense for any large company, even before taxes.
    – jwenting
    Jun 1, 2013 at 11:37
  • 4
    @jwenting: "the single biggest expense for any large company" [citation needed]
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 3, 2013 at 2:57
  • 1
    @matt_black About marketing vs sales, I agree. Hence, I thought it was okay to highlight the conclusion about Novartis's spending. However for all the other companies, it's more complicated than just marketing vs sales. The categories that include marketing also include legal fees, distribution and warehousing, administrative salaries, etc. and these vary from company to company.
    – user5582
    Jun 3, 2013 at 20:57

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