This month, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is opening in movie theaters. To help promote the movie, Dreamworks has granted licenses for the use of the cartoon characters to multiple products, including the typical sugar-filled children’s snacks and fast food restaurants. However, it also went one big, controversial step beyond that. Dreamworks has granted Merck permission to use the cartoon characters to advertise Children’s Claritin, a pediatric allergy medication.
On Claritin’s facebook page, it is heavily pushing its “Free Madagascar 3-Inspired Circus Activity Guide” prominently featuring both the Madagascar characters and large images of Children’s Claritin products. It is also using customized Madagascar 3 packaging for its products and offering “free stickers” with each purchase. NPR noted that Merck is also working with a group of bloggers that it calls the “Children’s Claritin Mom Crew” and sponsoring Madagascar 3 viewing parties complete with product samples and coupons.
Advocacy groups are calling on Merck to halt the campaign and are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate. The Public Health Advocacy Institute joined forced with ten other organizations and sent a letter to the FTC noting that the Madagascar 3 / Children’s Claritin campaign is a “violation of longstanding FTC precedent to protect children from child-directed marketing of OTC supplements and, by extension, OTC drugs.” They also expressed concern that the chewable Claritin tablets may be confused with the Madagascar 3 promotions for fruit-flavored candy, thereby creating a danger to children. Their letter concludes with a request for immediate action:
Before this trade practice becomes widespread, the FTC must send a clear message that child-directed marketing of OTC drugs is unfair and deceptive and violates longstanding FTC precedent. The use of Dreamworks’ Madagascar characters simultaneously on fruit-flavored children’s candy and gummy snacks and Grape-Flavored Children’s Claritin chewable tablets and syrup creates the impression that the OTC drug is candy. Morever, childrens’ 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. We ask that immediate enforcement action be taken to protect children from this practice.
Merck, however, doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with it. A Merck spokeswoman told Ad Week that they “advertise in appropriate venues to reach parents and not directly reach children themselves.” The response from Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood on twitter was swift and clear:
— CCFC (@commercialfree) June 20, 2012
What do you think? Is Merck going too far with this ad campaign and stepping into dangerous territory?
Image credit: Screen capture from Claritin facebook page.