A coalition of public interest groups said on Wednesday that Merck's campaign for grape-flavored Children's Claritin violates a Federal Trade Commission policy against marketing over-the-counter products directly to children.
The campaign, which involves traditional TV ads, as well as social media promotions, features characters from the animated movie "Madagascar 3." For the campaign, Merck allegedly called on its "Children's Claritin MomCrew" -- a group of bloggers that serve as endorsers for the company -- to hold "Madagascar" viewing parties for children.
The Mom Crew allegedly distributed Claritin samples along with other party favors at the events, then posted photos of the parties to their blogs. At least one Mom Crew member posted a party picture that appears to show five children holding Claritin samples in their hands, according to the advocates.
The critics say these efforts show that the campaign is designed to appeal to children. "Adult caregivers are the appropriate audience for information about such products," the groups argue. Organizations signing the letter include the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, Public Citizen and Public Health Institute.
Merck has yet to respond to Online Media Daily's request for comment. But the company reportedly takes the position that the campaign is directed toward parents of children, not the children themselves.
The advocates draw on a 1977 FTC decision involving ads in comic books for vitamin supplements. The FTC criticized marketing vitamins directly to children, reasoning that ad campaigns directed at kids could lead them to take an unhealthy quantity of vitamins. "Merck's use of "Madagascar" characters in its marketing campaign for OTC Grape-Flavored Children's Claritin allergy chewable tablets and syrup creates the same danger," the critics argue.
They are asking the FTC to investigate and "send a clear message that child-directed marketing of OTC drugs is unfair and deceptive."