Pharmaceutical product placement rife in TV shows

Treatment Online reviews some recent research showing that there is an increasing trend for pharmaceutical drug brand names to appear in prime-time TV shows in what looks increasingly like widespread product placement advertising.

Unsurprisingly, the main culprits tend to be popular medical shows, where the rate of pharmaceutical name-dropping seems to be increasing.

You might think that drug brand names are just being mentioned so the shows can be realistic and use the names of real medications. But it is possible to mention drugs without mentioning brand names, and this is probably more more realistic.

Medical drugs have two common names. One is the generic name which refers to the compound, one is the brand name, which refers to a specific drug company’s version.

For example, aspirin is a generic drug often sold under the name Anadin. Fluoxetine is the generic drug often sold under the name Prozac.

So, there’s not really any particular reason for TV shows to use brand names (in fact, doctors more commonly use the generic names). But despite this, the trend is growing and there is evidence that some of the name dropping is actually paid advertising through the back door [insert your own suppository joke here].

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.

Link to Treatment Online on drug company product placement.

One Comment

  1. Posted May 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    “A TV doctor recommending Vicodin”? If the reference is to House, it fails miserably. House is in pain, but he’s also addicted — and sometimes suffers side effects. Hardly a recommendation for the stuff.


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