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Health Groups Ask Federal Trade Commission to Investigate Merck’s Use of “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” Characters to Market Children’s Claritin®

June 20th, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Cara Wilking, 617-373-5699

Today, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, joined by 10 other organizations, sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking that it investigate Merck & Co. Inc.’s  Madagascar 3-themed marketing campaign for its flagship pediatric allergy medication, Grape-Flavored Chewable Children’s Claritin®.

“Marketing medicine directly to children at all, much less through entertainment tie-ins, is well beyond the pale and is not only inherently unfair, it is downright dangerous,” said Mark Gottlieb, executive director of PHAI.

To promote its June release of the Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted movie, Dreamworks licensed its Madagascar characters to Grape-Flavored Children’s Claritin®. It also licensed the characters to market other children’s foods including fruit-flavored Airheads candy, General Mills (Betty Crocker) Fruit Snacks, and McDonald’s Happy Meals. The use of the same characters on candy and gummy snacks and Children’s Claritin® creates the impression that the medicine is candy and could lead children to over consume the product at great risk to their health.

claritinmadagascarThe FTC regulates over-the-counter (OTC) drug marketing and has protected children from marketing of vitamin supplements, and by extension OTC drugs, since 1977 when it found the use of Spider-Man to market vitamins to children to be unfair and deceptive (In re Hudson Pharmaceutical Corp., 89 F.T.C. 82 (1977)).

Merck’s campaign utilizes customized Madagascar 3 packaging including “5 Free Stickers.”with Madagascar 3 characters and containing “5 Free Stickers.” Mail-in movie ticket voucher promotions were prominently placed at retail outlets such as Walgreens and downloadable Children’s Claritin® Madagascar-themed activity games further targeted children. Merck also enlisted its “Children’s Claritin® Mom Crew” members to create social media buzz. Mom Crew members held Madagascar-themed viewing parties for children featuring product samples, coupons, DVD’s, popcorn containers and, Madagascar stickers and then featured the children’s parties on their blogs and websites.

Cara Wilking, a PHAI senior staff attorney who authored the letter, added, “the FTC stepped in and stopped this practice a generation ago. Apparently OTC drug-makers like Merck need to be reminded that targeting kids is unfair, deceptive, and unacceptable.”

PHAI, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, ChangeLab Solutions (formerly Public Health Law & Policy), Corporate Accountability International, Eat Drink Politics, Public Citizen, The Public Good Law Center, Public Health Institute and Prevention Institute request immediate action by the FTC to stop this practice before it becomes widespread.

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