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Stealth marketing

Oregon editors say

Celebrities touting some new drug aren't in it for their (our your) health

The Oregonian

Most Americans are media savvy. They know that the soft drink consumed on a popular sitcom probably didn't get there by accident. But the expansion of marketing by pharmaceutical companies into news programming is nothing short of a hoax on the viewing public.

Recent reports in The New York Times and elsewhere describe a practice called stealth marketing.

Drug companies have been paying celebrities to talk about their products without disclosing these arrangements. Stealth marketing differs in some ways from product placement, in which the producer of a movie or other entertainment permits a product to be displayed in exchange for cash, goods or services. But in either case, products get pitched without letting the audience in on the deal.

Both practices are fundamentally dishonest. The marketing can be so slick, the promoter doesn't even have to mention the product by name. Kathleen Turner, for example, talked about her battle with rheumatoid arthritis with Good Morning America host Diane Sawyer earlier this year.

Turner suggested that viewers check out a Web site for advice. It so happens that Web site was sponsored by the drug companies Immunex and Wyeth; they paid Turner a fee. Pharmaceutical companies aren't alone in this kind of promotion. Actors posing as tourists get consumers to try the latest digital cameras.

Others join the after-work crowd to promote new brands of liquor at bars. But while undercover marketing of consumer products may be both dishonest and widespread, when it comes to drugs, it's dangerous. Stealth marketing lets drug companies escape the requirement that every advertising message include cautions about a medication and its possible side effects.

The Food and Drug Administration needs to intervene. The pharmaceutical industry is directly flouting FDA rules on drug promotions and needs to be stopped.