Friday, April 20, 2007

New Twist to Pharma Tchotchke Marketing: the Scrubs Affair

Author of the book "The Well-timed Period" and blogger of the blog of the same name, Diana Kroi, wonders if the popular TV show Scrubs is engaging in pharma product placement advertising.

She cites the image on the left as evidence (note the Nuvaring logo on the wall behind Turk). This image also appears on the show's web site according to Diana, who says:

"Interesting example of stealth pharma marketing, but I'm not sure what the point is. It's not product placement, since the product's name isn't actually shown. As such, unless you're already familiar with this birth control method and its packaging, you wouldn't know it's a Nuvaring ad, and you wouldn't be able to investigate further to learn more about a method that might be beneficial for you." (see "Stealth Pharma Marketing").

First, let me say that this is not really "stealth marketing" as I would and have defined it (see "Buzz 'n Blogs -- Stealth Marketing"). To be truly stealthy, marketers must hide the fact that what they are doing is marketing, as when they pay ordinary people to submit comments to blogs or talk up a product at a bar.

What Diana doesn't realize is the power of "branding," which Organon -- the marketers of Nuvaring -- have done very well with this product.

Branding attempts to link a product to image -- not just a physical image, but an emotional/mental image as well. The logo, of course, is an important part of building that image. It helps people identify the product and recall its benefits.

Yes, if you did not have any other experience with the brand and the logo, this particular "product placement" would be lost on you -- zero ROI! Yet, it probably didn't cost Organon much to place the logo on the wall in the background, so they won't expect much.

But let's imagine the opportunity for the producers of Scrubs and other medical TV shows to profit from this.

We all know that most doctors' offices and clinics are festooned with "tchotchkes" -- those ubiquitous posters, calendars, desk pads, pens, refrigerator magnets, etc. that pharmaceutical sales reps give to docs.

If a medical TV drama or sitcom wishes to have authentic looking medical ambiance, it MUST include tchotchkes or else we wouldn't believe it's a doctor's world. I could see the Scrubs set designer asking "How can I make this look like an Ob/Gyn examination room?" She would draw upon her own experience and provide props that she has seen in HER Ob/Gyn's office. It doesn't mean that Organon paid for the placement.

Sorry to say, it did not happen this way. Organon actually paid for this placement as reported by "Inside Branded Entertainment ...where brands entertain and entertainment brands" which reprinted a story from Brandweek. Here's the relevant excerpt from that story:
The only drug company that has come out of the closet regarding product placement is Organon. In 2005, the Roseland, N.J., firm placed posters for its Nuvaring contraceptive in the backgrounds of NBC's Scrubs and CBS' King of Queens. Since then, it has added ABC's Grey's Anatomy to its list, according to brand director Lisa Barkowski. "A lot of the feedback we get is from healthcare professionals," she said. "They mention it to [our] reps, 'Wow, I saw that poster.' It reinforces in their mind; it makes them think of the product." (This Is Your Show On Drugs: Rx Brands Injected Into Action)
Ah ha! It was for the docs watching the show, not the patients! But I think they could have done more!

Rollover Pharma Web Tchotchke Marketing

Now, if Scrubs really wanted to exploit "Tchotchke Marketing", here's a suggestion:

Don't charge pharma companies like Organon to place product chatchkes on the show. Just do it as a loss leader. What you really want them to pay for is advertising on the show's Web site! Here's how it could be done:

Images from the show are featured on the Web site, which should include blogs by the actors to attract viewers -- women, not just docs. The images should be carefully chosen like the one of Turk to include clear shots of the sponsor's chatchke(s). Encourage viewers to roll their mouses over the image to "discover things" or win a free gift (a Nuvaring pen!). BTW, enhance the image to highlight the chatchke -- nobody will rollover a blurry poster in the background. When the user rolls over the chatchke up would pop an ad for the product! Make it a dynamic ad -- a cDetail!

Imagine all the opportunities for that -- it would bring new life to pharma chatchke marketing!

By golly! I think I invented a new marketing paradigm! Check out


  1. Anonymous8:09 AM

    What a great idea John!

    I'm going to see if we could do something like that for our product!

  2. Anonymous10:43 AM

    If product placement in the background means fewer boring, irrelevant commercials then bring it on!!! I'd much rather have some healthcare-related background bits than another stupid truck commercial screaming at me for four minutes at a time, pretty much ruining the television-watching experience.

  3. I almost agree with you! However, it will never be one or the other -- product placements or intersitial ads -- too much money would be left on the table.

    But imagine interactive Tivo-enabled TV where you can scroll over live action to view ads triggered by object on screen? YouTube indeed!

  4. Ha! Thanks for the perspective. It never occurred to me that we, not the pts, were the target.


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