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Merck’s Marketing of Drug With ‘Madagascar 3’ Draws Complaint

Merck & Co.’s use of cartoon characters from the movie “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” to market children’s allergy drug Claritin is dangerous and deceptive, advocacy groups say.

Use of the animated animals may cause kids to confuse the medicine with candy, according to a complaint filed by 11 groups today with the Federal Trade Commission. The same characters are used to sell children’s snacks and McDonald’s Corp. Happy Meals, the groups said.

Merck’s marketing campaign for grape-flavored chewable children’s Claritin includes free Madagascar stickers, a mail-in movie ticket voucher and Madagascar-themed games. The promotions violate a precedent for marketing to children set by the FTC in 1977, the groups say. In that case, the agency ruled that Spider-Man couldn’t be used in television and print ads to market vitamins to children. The organizations said the ruling should be used to stop the movie-themed marketing of Claritin.

The marketing “creates a very real danger of product confusion and may induce children to over-consume Grape-Flavored Children’s Claritin allergy medication,” wrote Cara Wilking, staff attorney with the Public Health Advocacy Institute, a legal research center affiliated with Northeastern University in Boston.

“We advertise in appropriate venues to reach those parents of children who may benefit from the use of children’s Claritin,” said Merck spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty in an e-mail. “The advertising is directed to the parents of children viewing the movies, not to the children themselves.”

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” was the No. 1 movie for a second weekend at U.S. and Canadian theaters last weekend, taking in $34.1 million in ticket sales.

The interest groups who signed on to the FTC complaint include Washington D.C.-based Public Citizen and the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California. FTC spokeswoman Cecelia Prewett said the agency has received the complaint and declined to comment.

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