Consumer interest groups are concerned that Merck & Co. is taking advantage of one of this summer’s hit children’s movies.
The pharmaceutical company’s marketing campaign for its grape-flavored chewable children’s allergy drug Claritin includes free stickers, a mail-in movie ticket voucher and games highlighting DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” The animated film was the No. 1 movie in U.S. and Canadian theaters for the second weekend this past weekend.
Yesterday, 11 advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) saying that Merck’s Claritin campaign is unsafe and misleading. The groups say using the film’s characters to promote the drug could cause children to confuse the medicine with candy and consume too much of it. Additionally, the complaint states that Merck’s promotions violate children’s marketing rules the FTC set in 1977 when it decided that a company couldn’t use Spider-Man to market its vitamins to children.
In an email, Merck spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty said Merck advertises “in appropriate venues to reach those parents of children who may benefit from the use of children’s Claritin. The advertising is directed to the parents of children viewing the movies, not to the children themselves.”
The complaint against Merck is somewhat similar to another one that a disgruntled consumer filed last year against McDonald’s Corp. The lawsuit claimed the fast-food chain’s Happy Meals violated consumer-protection laws by using free toys to lure children into the restaurants to eat unhealthy food. In April, a judge threw out the suit.
Read Bloomberg for more about Merck’s marketing backlash.