Product placement - Can Hollywood help push Grandpa's cholesterol drug?

How will Hollywood screenwriters, already working furiously on fart jokes, the development of hot yet empathic characters, screeching road chases and heart-rendering finales, manage to drop references to OTC drugs into their scripts? We should have seen it coming. It's a very small conceptual step from placing the new squeezable ketchup in a child's hand during a movie to Leslie Nielsen pushing cholesterol-reducing drugs - while eating a chili dog.

As Simon Williams, president and CEO of the Sterling Group, tells Pharmaceutical Executive this month:

    ...Marketers should also ask if the drug's target market will watch the movie. Obviously, there is no purpose in mentioning Lipitor if high-cholesterol sufferers aren't watching ...

    I would never expect the pharma industry to be an early adopter of this practice, but I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a disproportionately important avenue for building brand awareness for drugs within the next five years—because it gets people when they are engaged.

    Companies like Pfizer, which run such huge brands and have some of the smartest marketers in the country, are looking at how to apply product placement. I suspect that the rest of the industry will also not want to miss out on any genuine established marketing communication vehicle.

Oh yeah. We can't forget advertising agencies who, their budgets squeezed and their commissions lowered, will jump through figurative and literal FDA hoops to cash in on this gravy train.

I can hear the discussion at a 2006 pharma sales meeting now: "Well, the opening weekend take was $36M, and we saw a 12% uptick in sales over the following week." All the result of informed decision-making, of course. The on-package coupon distributed with every theatre soft drink will probably help as well.