"This campaign is in violation of longstanding FTC precedent to protect children from child-directed marketing of OTC supplements and, by extension, OTC drugs," wrote the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, which was joined by Berkeley Media Studies Group; Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood; Center for Digital Democracy; Corporate Accountability International; Eat Drink Politics and Public Citizen, among others.
By using the animated characters from 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted,' they claim that children may confuse the medicine with candy and food that are also part of a promotional campaign undertaken by the Dreamworks film studio. These products include fruit-flavored gummy snacks, Airhead candy, Blue Bunny ice cream bars, McDonald's Happy Meals and Lance sandwich crackers. The advocacy groups worry the combined campaigns may induce children to "over-consume" Claritin.
In arguing their case, the groups maintain the Merck effort violates an FTC precedent that was set in 1977 regarding marketing to children (here it is). At the time, the agency ruled that Spiderman could not be used in television and print ads to market vitamins directly to children and, therefore, this decision should be used as the basis for preventing Merck from using Madagascar characters to sell its over-the-counter allergy medicine.
"The commission clearly stated that 'children are unqualified by age or experience to decide for themselves whether or not they need or should use vitamin supplements in general or an advertised brand in particular, thus the directing of advertisements of...vitamin supplements to children is in itself an unfair practice," the groups wrote, adding that the earlier case "contains a limited exception for using licensed characters on product packaging, but the Merck "extends well beyond product packaging."
The groups then write that Merck tie-ins include customized Madagascar 3 packaging for both types of Claritin; a “Free Movie Ticket Offer” promotion with a Claritin purchase at Walgreens; the Claritin Facebook page offers a free, downloadable Madagascar Inspired Circus Activity Guide and a Madagascar themed “Circus Stackers” game; eight activity guides for free download from Facebook, and product packaging that included “5 Free Stickers” of Madagascar characters.
Merck also initiated “Children’s Claritin Mom Crew” members to hold Madagascar-themed viewing parties. Mom Crew members are bloggers who have been selected by Merck to be product endorsers, the letter states. PHAI, in fact, says it ran a Google search using the terms “Claritin mom crew Madagascar.” Of the first 40 search results, 31 were unique accounts of Children’s Claritin Madagascar viewing parties held by Claritin Mom Crew members from across the country.
"I...decided to host our Madagascar Viewing Party and at my two youngest children’s preschool... There are about 6 kids in their class so this was a perfect number to watch the movie and have some fun! I decided to make the party fun and Imade popcorn (organic, of course) and we had Madagascar coloring pages AND I gave out a TON of Claritin Samples for my parents," one Claritin Mom wrote on her blog called 'Bossy Girl in the City." She disclosed that she was provided with the movies. popcorn containers, stickers and LOTS of sample of Claritin to host the party (read here).
"The Madagascar campaign for Children’s Claritin may induce children to request Merck’s brand-name OTC drug, describe symptoms in order to get a sticker or to get medicine perceived to be candy (and) the inclusion of stickers with Children’s Claritin is an invitation for children to seek out the drug on their own," the groups write. "Children’s descriptions of allergy symptoms or requests for OTC allergy medication should be based solely on how they are feeling and not on sophisticated child-directed marketing campaigns" (HERE IS THE LETTER SENT TO THE FTC).
Instead, the groups maintain that "adult caregivers are the appropriate audience for information about such products." A Merck spokeswoman tells us that the drugmaker is doing just. The drugmaker is "reviewing the letter," she says, "but we advertise in appropriate venues to reach parents of children who may benefit from the use of children's claritin and not to the children themselves."
Is This Madagascar Promotion For Claritin Problematic?
- Yes (83%, 199 Votes)
- No (17%, 43 Votes)
Total Voters: 241