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Friday, March 9, 2012

Dr. House's Big Product Placement Adventure

House's uber-pill

In homage to the final season of House, let's reconsider the series' high-profile product placement of the good doctor's addiction of choice, Vicodin. Many a review and Web comment have assumed that Fox and the drug's manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, are in bed via some sweetheart product placement deal. (As far as I know, both have been mum on the matter.)  Uncritical attribution of joint sleeping arrangements, I think, borders on conspiracy theory.

One thing, though, is for sure: the prescription drug has become a household word thanks to Vicodin's hold on House. A year ago, Nielsen tracked viewer recall of product placements on network dramas and sitcoms from February 1-28. The House-Vicodin team placed second. The drug, in fact, has been conspicuous throughout the series and is every bit the match in scarfability of Reeses Pieces in E.T.

But is that the sort of brand recognition that Abbott Laboratories craves? And does it translate into sales?  When I want/need a prescription drug for pain, my physician typically writes a scrip based on his recommendation. Lately I've refrained from asking, "Doc, my brand of choice is Vicodin" or, alternatively, "I'd like a scrip for the stuff that works so well for House." (Perhaps I need to take greater charge of my own medical destiny.)

Mucho  Street Cred

My physician, of course, didn't  learn about Vicodin from House. He already knew about it as a  pill- prescribing cognoscento. That leaves a final market where the House-Vicodin buzz may have made a difference: the illegal street trade. Here, it's no stretch to imagine that Vicodin,  combined with Dr. House's  "attitude" (he even uses his walking stick on the wrong side to spite the medical establishment) has gained big dividends in street cred and popularity.

It would be cynical though--even for this blog--to assume that the good folks at Abbott Laboratories might somehow approve. Still,  we'd do well to survey whether and how much Vicodin's sales have morphed with its higher profile. And, for that matter, whether the  drug's negative role on the show correlates with sales. (The sales numbers, a marketing professor friend confided, are there for the taking.)

Raising Canes. Drugs aside, House has done great things for another byway of the economy--the market for walking sticks and canes. Begin your makeover at the cane and stick emporium, fashionable canes and walking sticks, which offers ten variations of walking sticks that have appeared on the show, including the Flame, Alpaca Feather, Derby, Tourist, and, of course, the Skull Handle.

Source: fashionable canes and walking sticks
Take it from a Web site that knows its marketing:
Whether you prefer one of Dr. Gregory House's more classic looks or the racy, exciting designs of either the House Flame Canes or the more recently used "Death's Head Cane," you are sure to appreciate these exact replicas of the walking canes used on the show!
And remember, House canes will keep on giving as you keep on aging.  Ditto for the House mystique. Remember, he's not dead, he's in syndication.

Click here for the product placement forerunner, Paris 1882: Edouard Manet Meets Bass Ale.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Amherst, Massachusetts Votes: Super Tuesday 2012

Click to enlarge
At 8:45 a.m., a lineup of "reserved for voters" parking spaces outside Amherst’s Bangs Center—the town’s  largest polling place—revealed one of rural Western Massachusetts’ secure wide-open spaces. That’s because the primary is a de facto Republican affair and  Republicans in the feistily Democratic college town are as scarce as declining tuitions at its colleges and university. A visit to the polling center revealed several dour douenas from the League of Women Voters hunkered down for a long haul (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) of  linoleum watching.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Amherst, Massachusetts Contemplates Moral Hazard

Moral Hazard at Reichenbach Falls

Two weeks ago, firefighters from Amherst and surrounding communities rescued 22-year-old Scott Merrick, who had fallen 25 feet from the top of Bare Mountain in the Notch, a popular hiking venue in the Mount Holyoke Range State Park. Merrick’s mishap occurred late at night when he ascended the hill alone, following a dispute with his girlfriend at the bottom.  The rescue involved 35 firefighters, including members of the department’s technical rescue team, who responded at 11:30 p.m. to the girlfriend’s call. They wrapped things up at 3:30 a.m. Merrick, who sustained minor injuries, left the hill on a stretcher and was transportated by ambulance to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. The cost of his rescue: around $10,000.
Charging Merrick for the rescue “is not something I’m actively pursuing at all, Amherst Town Manager John Musante told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “Implementing a fee-for-service component—does that have the unintended disincentive for people to call for help when they most need it?” With that said, Musante, who is admired both for his financial acumen and kind-heartedness, may have been primed for his response: he recently spent several months out of circulation after falling  in September while walking his dog.

Still, $10,000 is no bag of shells. A year ago, State Representative Stephen Kulik, a liberal democrat from Worthington, Massachusetts, introduced a bill (H.650) that would allow municipal and state governments to recoup emergency response costs attributable to reckless or intentional behavior. Many of the communities that Kulik represents have more vertical topography than Amherst; they also have tighter resources, making costs tougher to absorb.

A light at the end of the spelunk

But when there's clear negligence, why should the towns foot the entire bill? Consider the 12-hour rescue in 2010, for example,  by Amherst  responders of 25-year old Maya Hersh from a cave in the hills of nearby Leverett. Ms. Hersh got stuck in a cave's narrow orifice. To her discredit, she confessed to having been  stuck and unstuck there before (the first time without emergency assistance).

Whether Kulik's bill becomes law or not, Scott and Maya would do well to read Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival.
In Survival, the author warns that overconfidence nurtured in the low-risk milieu of home and culture can get us into unforgiving trouble in nature. With dire results, climbers often over-weigh the challenges and goals of ascent while treating descent as an afterthought. Experienced hikers get disoriented in the woods when poor visibility, adverse weather, and other natural forces scramble their mental maps. Skiers  who venture just off the path at ski resorts may encounter frictionless slopes and unstable geology. And unwary swimmers at some of Hawaii's beautiful beaches are just a rip tide away from their final aquatic adventure.

In recent posts, this blog has examined the dangers of other wishful perceptions:  viewing interspecies liaisons as central casting in a peaceable kingdom and experiencing what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls amnesiac vacations.  Happily, we can all learn from Scott and Maya's picaresque adventures. One question  does, however, cry out: Given the lightening learning curves and voracious networking skills of this blog's readers, do we still need a Kulik bill to become a Massachusetts law?