Friday, April 20, 2007

Stealth Pharma Marketing


I was watching Scrubs and I noticed something Ob/Gyn-related. Take a look at these pics from the show's site and see if you can spot it, too:

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.

So then we're left with some type of quasi-subliminal marketing. The manufacturer is repeatedly exposing viewers to an outline of its product logo in hopes of, what? That those so exposed will make an appointment with their Ob/Gyn (how would people even know the ad is for a contraceptive?), draw a picture of the logo or, better yet, build a Play-Doh model, and then ask the doctor to interpret it for them?

What's the point of habituating potential patients to an emblem of your product, if people don't even know what your product is?


Make sure to read the comments for added perspective. Miko Monkey's TV set insider notes, and Pharma Marketing Blog's John Mack with the definitive report:

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."

Turns out this branding effort is directed to those already familiar with Nuvaring, the physicians. I have to say it never occurred to me we'd be the target audience. But since we are, here are some money saving tips for brand director Lisa Barkowski:

Tip #1: It's our job to know about these products and we don't get our information from TV ads.

Tip #2: It's also our job to, you know, think of all the available methods when recommending a contraceptive to a patient.

Tip #3: Less branding, more providing useful information to your key target audience--people unfamiliar with your product. Like so:

I've been using Nuvaring , after having used Ortho-low and the patch in the past. Both were a pain in the butt, and I learned about Nuvaring after finding out about this blogsite. What a godsend!...I am very grateful that blogs like this are available, as I would have not known about these other methods and wouldn't have been able to reduce my period to four times a year.

Just provide people with clear, complete, and correct information about your product and, if it suits their needs, they will enthusiastically use it. And we will continue to enthusiastically recommend it, not because of any branding efforts on your part, but because, and here's the key point, Nuvaring is a very good, innovative, useful contraceptive method.

And speaking of good and useful things, here's how I'd like my posts to read when I grow up and get a hang of this journalistic writing style thing.

Lastly, check out these new pharma bloggers I discovered via this post:

Pharma Marketing Blog




At 11:06 AM, Blogger John Mack said...


Hi. I believe it's called "branding," which attempts to link a product to image. The logo is an important part of that and the Nuvaring folks (Organon) have done a good job of it.

It probably didn't cost them much to place the logo on the wall in the background, so they won't expect much.

Now, if Scrubs really wanted to exploit this sort of thing with images on the web site, they can do mouse rollovers so that whenever you rolled over a logo like this, an ad would pop up! Image all the opportunities for that -- it would bring new life to pharma chatchke marketing!

John Mack
Pharma Marketing Blog

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Miko Monkey said...

If you've ever stumbled upon a random medical set (I've accidentally walked into the wrong studio & had some free time to just explore I think it was ER's) they generally just go for what "feels" right. They may have gotten posters from actual pharma but it's more likely that someone remembered seeing it at their md's and printed it out & put it on the set. Not because people would see & recognize it (as an ad) but because people would see that it looks like something they might see at an md's office. It's like background noise: you don't actually hear crickets in most places when it's quiet, but you understand that it means "quiet" when you hear it on TV or in the movies.

Good eyes, though! Maybe it's a head-nod to people like you who would recognize it (there are a lot of in-jokes on shows that often involve little more than "this is what I use so I'm going to put it in here").

At 5:18 PM, Blogger John Mack said...

Nope. Organon paid to have it placed on the set. See New Twist to Pharma Chatchke Marketing: the Scrubs Affair at

At 4:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I was led to your site as a result of attempting to look up effects of birth control, like why it's a fake period & such and such. I think this is a great blog, very informative. But I've got a question. What makes the periods on birth control fake? I know it has to do with the fact that it's not shedding your actual uterine lining but that answer is so unsatisfactory to me. Thanks!

At 11:40 PM, Blogger ema said...


Briefly. The monthly period is the body-directed shedding of a thickened uterine lining, under the influence of fluctuating endogenous hormone levels, at set intervals (~21 days). The monthly withdrawal bleed is the user-directed artificial destabilization of a thin uterine lining, as a result of deliberately manipulating the dosage of exogenous hormones in the Pill, at arbitrarily set intervals (21 days, 49 days, 84 days, 168 days, or 336 days).

A monthly menstrual period has a [single] biological purpose: to prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy. A monthly withdrawal bleed has no physiological or biological purpose. It's a designer trick, intended mostly to appease politicians and Popes. It's a historical artifact, not a biological requirement.


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