Health Groups to FTC: Claritin Ain’t Candy

Movie tie-in shouldn't treat OTC treatment like a treat

Public health advocates are charging that Merck's entertainment product tie-in campaign for children’s Claritin with the movie Madagascar 3 is deceptive and dangerous because it could cause children to confuse medicine with candy.

In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston and 10 other organizations requested today that the agency investigate the campaign.

"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 for PHAI.

Coinciding with the release of the Dreamworks movie in June, the tie-in features the movie cartoon characters on packaging, in games, on stickers and in other giveaways for grape-flavored chewable children's Claritin tablets and grape-flavored over-the-counter allergy syrup. There were also free movie tickets offered with Claritin purchases at many stores. Merck, manufacturer of the Claritin products, also used its "Children's Claritin Mom Crew" to hold Madagascar 3 viewing parties, providing free product samples.

The 11 groups charge that the campaign violates a precedent set by the FTC in 1977 when it ruled that Spider-Man could not be used to market vitamins directly to children, finding the campaign "unfair and deceptive."

"The same holds true, if not more so, with respect to OTC drugs," wrote Cara Wilking, PHAI's senior staff attorney.

A Merck spokeswoman said the company was currently reviewing the complaint. "We advertise in appropriate venues to reach parents and not directly to reach children themselves," said Merck's Kelley Dougherty.

Other groups who signed the letter were Berkeley Media Studies Group, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, ChangeLab Solutions, Corporate Accountability International, Eat Drink Politics, Public Citizen, The Public Good Law Center, Public Health Institute and Prevention Institute.