More Pharmaceutical Sales Relying on TV Product Pl
> 5/9/2008 12:12:46 PM

Does the average viewer take note of the marketing brilliance on display when a certain sad gangster confesses a Prozac dependence to his brothers-in-crime? When a desperate housewife suspects, via voiceover, that her husband/lover has turned to Viagra to better his bedroom performance? When a pill-popping wunderkind doctor names a particular med to counter the mysterious ailment of the week? Probably not. But many of these seemingly casual references are anything but, and the practice may soon create some legal dust-ups of its own. The FDA has had to regulate ads that mislead customers about the potential of the drugs they advertise, but a new report issued by researchers at UCLA and published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing notes that they may soon need to regulate the appearance of paid drug references on popular programs.

Most of us know the most popular medications prescribed for conditions like depression by name due to large-scale publicity campaigns concocted by the drug's manufacturers. It's been more than a decade since the FDA first allowed pharmaceuticals to advertise on TV, and the move made sense as drug production is a multi-billion dollar business and consumer familiarity is a key to any successful venture. Medications, after all, are products, and the more potential customers hear about them, the more likely they are to follow commercial advice and "ask their doctors" about pharmaceutical X. But traditional commercials, despite their ubiquity, have reportedly done little to boost medication sales, especially in a Tivo era in which many viewers skip commercials altogether. According to recent surveys, only 1 in 10 viewers find these ads useful in the first place. And while Americans once viewed the act of shameless product placement, or "integration," with a certain disdain, they now seem to regard it as an inevitable part of the marketing landscape.

Industry watchdog Nielsen Product Placement notes that the number of casual references to name-brand pharmaceuticals is higher than ever before and continues to rise with each new TV season. Medical shows in particular lend themselves to this form of non-advertising, and they are among the most popular prime-time programs. Shows like "House," "Scrubs," and "Grey's Anatomy" routinely feature medical environments where sexy doctors and nurses drop references to brand-name drugs in settings both private and professional. Studies reveal that the authority granted to these characters leaves viewers less likely to notice or question their implied endorsements of the products at hand - and, by the very nature of the fiction, a TV doctor recommending Vicodin is not as overbearing an advocate as the same character might be when marveling over the many great features of his brand-new Hummer.

Some companies actually admit to negotiating placement deals despite the industrywide contention that the vast majority of these references do not fulfill any contract. While these placements are not illegal, necessary federal oversight remains very poor if it exists at all. By failing to act on this trend, the federal government runs the risk of allowing manufacturers too much leeway to deliver what could be misleading information to millions of viewers. Improper or recreational use of powerful prescription drugs is among the possible repercussions. The FDA has been required to intervene in order to curb misleading advertisements in the past, and these unofficial mentions warrant the same degree of scrutiny.
The paper's authors have suggestions to waylay the problem: the FTC does not recognize product placements as advertisements, but the FDA should, requiring that any sponsors, official or not, be listed at the end of each program. An even better approach would be for both the FDA and the FTC to acknowledge that pharmaceutical placements represent a new form of marketing and develop an entirely new set of regulations in accordance. Because these drugs are designed and marketed for the treatment of specific health problems, parties looking to promote them should not be held to the same guidelines as those who advertise hamburgers, SUVs or sports drinks - all customers must be aware of the risks inherent in such drugs. By negotiating placement contracts under new FDA regulations and including information about the products and their side-effects after every program, manufacturers could open a huge ad venue with the blessing of the federal government. Industry officials speculate on the potential effects of unregulated placement, but the fact is that this practice is already taking place and it will eventually require the development of new regulations. The question is not if, but when.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy