Merck & Co might be wishing it had just stuck with Antonio Banderas to market its allergy products. In a sharply-worded letter to the US Federal Trade Commission, a group of public advocacy groups is demanding the agency investigate Merck's use of Dreamworks Animation's characters from the movie Madagascar III: Europe's Most Wanted to market its over-the-counter (OTC) Children's Claratin.
"Dreamworks licensed its Madagascar characters for use on a number of children's food products including General Mills' fruit-flavored gummy snacks and fruit-flavored Airheads candy," wrote The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI). "The use of the same licensed characters on fruit-flavored OTC allergy medication, children's candy and children's gummy snacks creates a very real danger of product confusion and may induce children to over-consume Grape-Flavored Children's Claritin allergy medication."
At issue, explains PHAI, is FTC's precedence that children are "unqualified by age or experience to decide for themselves whether or not they need or should use" products for a given medical indication. FTC ruled against Hudson Pharmaceuticals in 1977 after the company advertised its vitamins in Spider-Man comic books, noted PHAI.
PHAI contends Merck's advertising of grape-flavored Children's Claratin follows in this precedence by using characters from a child-focused movie, and should thus be banned.
Merck actually went beyond the Hudson precedence by rolling out an extensive advertising campaign, the group explains. "As Children's Claritin first entertainment product tie-in, Claritin created customized Madagascar 3 packaging for their Grape Chewables and Grape Syrup products," writes PHAI. "Additionally, there is a "Free Movie Ticket Offer" promotion with a Claritin purchase at Walgreens, Claritin's Facebook page offers a free, downloadable Madagascar Inspired Circus Activity Guide and a Madagascar themed "Circus Stackers" game, and other traditional advertising means and social media programs."
All of this creates a hazard to children by promoting the product's use in children whether or not it is needed, and potentially exposing children to excessive amounts should they confuse the product with candy. PHAI says Madagascar has been used to promote numerous other food items, including several types of candy, and the concurrent promotion of both in children's media outlets presents a strong potential for confusion.
Merck said in a statement to NPR it is "currently reviewing the complaint," but maintains its advertisements occur in "appropriate venues to reach those parents of children who may benefit from the use of children's Claritin, not to the children themselves."
PHAI letter to FTC
Pharmalot - Merck, Madagascar & Unfair Claritin Marketing?
NPR - When 'Madagascar' Meets Children's Claritin
Bloomberg - Merck's Marketing Of Drug With 'Madagascar 3' Draws Complaint