Merck: Using Moms and Madagascar to Market to Kids

Merck, the pharmaceutical conglomerate, is getting some pretty bad press this week for releasing a children’s version of Claritin with a Madagascar 3 marketing campaign integrated in its packaging.  And they’re using mommy bloggers to shill it.

Here is the offending packaging:

Merck Packaging

Now to me, that looks like a pretty good time if you’re a three year old.  I mean, of course it does.  That’s the whole point of marketing, isn’t it? Stickers!  Grapes!  Animals!

Don’t take my word for it, though.  I asked three year old Mary Tyler Son to weigh in — my kitchen table marketing sample of one.  Sure enough, he liked it.  He liked it enough to exclaim, “Madagascar!  I want some!”  I’m not joking. This is a kid who has not seen Madagascar, sitting with his Mom, me, who has not seen Madagascar.

Marketing works, folks.

Beside the fact that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rules established against marketing vitamins to children directly, there are no such rules applying to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.  Yet.  A complaint was filed with the FTC on Wednesday by the Public Health Advocacy Institute that attempts to duplicate the rules for vitamins to OTC drugs.  The complaint is backed by ten leading public health and media advocacy groups.

A second complaint involves the Merck social media campaign to market the meds.  This is where the mommy bloggers come in — oh, I’m sorry, the “Children’s Claritin Mom Crew.”  Each member of the Mom Crew was gifted the items below to host a Claritin Madagascar viewing party.

Mom Crew Package

Now I hate to get all self-righteous here, but I’m gonna.  Seriously, mommy bloggers?  I get that blogging is a money making venture for a lot of us moms out there.  I don’t play for that particular team, but shill away if that is what floats your boat and helps provide for your family.  I get it.  I do.  But please, have a line in the blogging sand.  Have a thought in your head that tells you that when Big Pharma comes knocking, you best question them.

Read this.

I mean, honestly, I rest my case.  A kid’s party revolving around medicine? Does no adult in the room see the problem with that?  Claritin is medicine. Not candy.  Not fun and games.  Not popcorn party time.  Medicine.

These are the folks that give mommy bloggers a bad name.  Some of us will sell our soul for a free DVD.  Ugh.  And aside from the superiority complex I am obviously afflicted with, there are the ramifications for kids.  WOW! Allergy medicine is fun.  I wish I had allergies.  Now that may sound silly, or like an overreaction, but already from three year old Mary Tyler Son, I see that for him, medicine can be an enticing yummy treat.

When he has a fever, he gets dye-free acetaminophen and ibuprofin.  I generally go generic with these, so the only exciting thing on the packaging are pictures of grapes or cherries, but he likes the flavor.  He recently had a bout of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, so was on a heavy rotation of both for a few days until the fever died down.  Weeks later, he is still asking for medicine at bed time.  Yum!  Last night at dinner he told me he had a fever, “I think I need some medicine.”

Kids don’t need Madascar characters to encourage them to take meds.  Kids also don’t need moms throwing them parties that revolve around medicine. And us moms?  We don’t need Big Pharma using moms who live down the street from us to encourage our kids to use Claritin.  Creepy.

Merck’s official line is that their marketing is geared towards the adults purchasing on behalf of children.  And I have no doubt that the Children’s Claritin Mom Crew will tow the company line and tell you about what a difficult time they have getting their allergy ridden kids to take their meds.  Slap a licensed character on Claritin and PRESTO, problem solved.

I reject that argument with the strength and fury of a million Cancer Moms standing behind me.  Suck it up, Mom Crew.  If you can’t get your kids to take their allergy meds, it’s your job to figure it out.  If I can put on gloves to mix toxic chemotherapy in ICE CREAM to make it more palatable to my terminally ill daughter, you can find a strategy to give your child allergy medicine that doesn’t have a licensed character on it.

So I’ve already established that I can be self-righteous.  May as well get indignant here too, right?  Embrace my flaws.  Hell, I got nothing to lose.

Big Pharma has produced one pediatric oncology drug in twenty years.  One. ONE.  Most pharma companies don’t invest in research for children’s ailments, including cancer, because the numbers simply aren’t there.  There is no profit in sick kids as there are simply not enough of them.  But there is profit in over the counter drugs, and if slapping licensed cartoon characters on medicine can increase that profit, by all means, they will.

Will the kids start confusing medicine for sweet treats?  Meh, Merck will leave that for the Mom Crew to figure out.  And with all those free product samples and DVDs, the mommy bloggers are happy to accommodate them. Pretty cheap freaking price to pay for marketing, I’d say.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t sell my kid’s well being for some DVDs and product samples to make more of a profit for Merck.  My kid deserves better than that.  And so does yours.

Rant over.

Correction:  I had originally stated that only one cancer drug specific to children had been developed in thirty years.  It is twenty years.  I apologize for the mistake.