Mass tort TV ads fell in 2020 amid drop in Roundup advertising

Television advertising by law firms seeking clients for lawsuits against the makers of drugs and consumer products fell in 2020, as a flood of ads related to claims that weedkiller Roundup can cause cancer subsided amid Bayer AG’s move to settle many of those cases.

A man uses a Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller spray containing glyphosate in a garden in Bordeaux, France, June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Lawyers and referral services in 2020 spent an estimated $139 million on mass tort TV advertising, down 33% from the same time last year, when law firms were airing thousands of more ads than they did in 2019, according to data analyzed by X Ante.

The total number of ads aired fell from an estimated 796,000 to 644,000, a decline Rustin Silverstein, X Ante’s president and founder, attributed in part to the decline in Roundup litigation-related ads.

In 2019, an estimated $91 million was spent on ads seeking clients to pursue Roundup-related claims, making it the No. 1 product to be featured in TV advertising, according to X Ante, citing data from ad-tracking firm Kantar CMAG.

By contrast, only $23 million was spent on Roundup ads in 2020. Roundup ranked third for most-featured product, behind the heartburn drug Zantac and talcum powder, for which an estimated $37.9 million and $34.8 million were spent, respectively.

Zantac, made by Sanofi SA, and ranitidine, as it is generically known, have since 2019 become the subject of hundreds of lawsuits alleging they contain a known carcinogen and can cause cancer. Johnson & Johnson Inc’s talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder is the subject of thousands of lawsuits that claim it causes cancer.

The companies deny the allegations.

The decline in Roundup ad spending came as Bayer in June agreed to a $10.9 billion proposed settlement to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits and claims alleging Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate cause cancer. It denies the allegations.

The top five ad sponsors by dollars were, in order, the Goldwater Law Firm in Phoenix; the marketing companies Knightline Legal and Guardian Legal Network; Davis & Crump in Gulfport, Mississippi; and Ferrer, Poirot & Wansbrough in Dallas.

Silverstein said the decline in advertising may have been influenced by election-year ad buying and a “slowdown in litigation activity due to COVID-related closures of courts.”

John Beisner, a defense lawyer who leads the mass tort practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, said the decline in trials may have impacted ads to the extent they were aimed less at attracting clients than to influence the opinions of the public and, by extension, potential jurors.

“We’ve seen ads become less focused on attracting clients and more focused on making statements ahead of trial,” he said.

Bob Goldwater, the Goldwater Law Firm’s founder, countered that the pandemic was, if anything, a better time to advertise since so many people were home. He said instead the decline may be related to advertisers shifting from TV to digital ads.

“At least with me, I’m now spending the majority of my marketing dollars online,” he said.

While the estimated number of ads were down for the year, they remained higher than in each of the four years that preceded 2019, according to X Ante.

Other products in the top-10 list for the year include hernia mesh, opioids, and 3M co-manufactured military earplugs, which are now the subject of more than 200,000 lawsuits by servicemembers and veterans accusing 3M of selling defective earplugs to the military. It denies the allegations.

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