Nielsen reported last week that product placements on broadcast TV rose by 39 percent during the first quarter of 2008, with placements on primetime TV going up about six percent. Cable, which already has a fair amount of placement, remained flat.
In all, Nielsen last quarter tracked 117,976 product placements, or what it calls "brand occurrences," on broadcast and cable combined. A "brand occurrence" can be any verbal or visual reference to a product or brand, and not all of these "occurrences" or paid product placements.
The top 5 broadcast programs with the greatest number of placements were all rteality or game shows: The Biggest Loser, American Idol, The Apprentice, Deal or No Deal, and Extreme Makeover Home Edition. One scripted show, One Tree Hill on the CW, made it into the Top 10 for product placements.
Just as Nielsen was announcing the biggest winners (or losers?) in product placements, The Journal of Public Policy & Marketing published a report done at UCLA that shows a troubling trend -- an increase in product placements for prescription drugs.
Nielsen shows prescription drug "occurrences" have risen noticeably on popular network series like House, Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs, where doctors and nurses routinely drop references to brand name medications -- often the same ones that advertise on those shows. Not all are paid product placements, but possibly the writers trying to inject some dose of reality into the shows where medical professionals don't always act very professionally.
While you and I know that Gregory House and Meredith Grey are not real doctors, the authors of the UCLA study are concerned that some viewers may forget and take those brand references as recommendations as tips for self diagnosis and self medication.
The study suggests that the FTC and the FDA step in to offer guidelines for phamaceutical product placements. "Because these drugs are designed and marketed for the treatment of specific health problems," the report says, "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."
Meanwhile, it's a matter of caveat viewer.