June 21, 2012
Children's Health Advocates Lambaste Pharma Giant Merck for Using Popular "Madagascar" Movie Characters In Its Marketing To Promote a Kids' Allergy Drug — The "Dangerous and Deceptive" Move "Creates Product Confusion," Says Public Health Official
Children's health advocates are particularly touchy about the use of popular or iconic kid-focused TV and movie characters to generate excitement among kids about products, especially potentially dangerous or unhealthy ones. This week, those advocacy groups came out in full force to criticize pharma giant Merck & Co.'s use of cartoon characters from the movie, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, to market children's allergy drug Claritin — a ploy they say is dangerous and deceptive. Use of the animated animals may cause kids to confuse the medicine with candy, according to a complaint filed by 11 groups today with the Federal Trade Commission. The same characters are used to sell children's snacks and McDonald's Happy Meals, the groups said, BusinessWeek reports. Merck's marketing campaign for grape-flavored chewable children's Claritin includes free Madagascar stickers, a mail-in movie ticket voucher and Madagascar-themed games. The promotions violate a precedent for marketing to children set by the FTC in 1977, the groups say. In that case, the agency ruled that Spider-Man couldn't be used in television and print ads to market vitamins to children. The organizations said the ruling should be used to stop the movie-themed marketing of Claritin. The marketing "creates a very real danger of product confusion and may induce children to over-consume Grape-Flavored Children's Claritin allergy medication," said Cara Wilking, staff attorney with the Public Health Advocacy Institute, a legal research center affiliated with Northeastern University in Boston, the article reports. Merck fired back with a flimsy clarifier, but a clarifier nonetheless: "We advertise in appropriate venues to reach those parents of children who may benefit from the use of children's Claritin," said Merck spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty, BusinessWeek reports. "The advertising is directed to the parents of children viewing the movies, not to the children themselves."
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted was the No. 1 movie for a second weekend at U.S. and Canadian theaters last weekend, taking in $34.1 million in ticket sales, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports.
The interest groups who signed on to the FTC complaint include Washington D.C.-based Public Citizen and the Public Health Institute in Oakland, Calif., reports BusinessWeek writer Shannon Pettypiece.