"Marketing medicine directly to children … is well beyond the pale," advocacy group says
"Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" may be a favorite of children nationwide, but the animated film's connection to a children's medicine is making some people downright sick.
The Public Health Advocacy Institute, along with 10 other organizations, called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Inc.'s promotional campaign featuring characters from the DreamWorks Animation film on Tuesday.
Merck's campaign, which promotes its Grape-Flavored Chewable Children's Claritin allergy medicine, includes customized, "Madagascar 3"-themed packaging with free stickers inside; movie-ticket voucher promotions in such outlets as Walgreens drug stores; and downloadable games tying Children's Claritin to "Madagascar 3."
The health-advocacy institute is particularly concerned because DreamWorks has also licensed characters from "Madagascar 3" to food products targeted toward children, which "creates the impression that the medicine is candy and could lead children to over-consume the product at great risk to their health."
However, the mere fact that Children's Chewable Claritin is being marketed to kids with "Madagascar" characters at all is enough to irk the organization.
"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," the institute's executive director Mark Gottlieb said.
A spokesman for Merck told TheWrap that the company is looking into the group's claims, but that Merck's advertising is targeted to parents, not children.
"We are currently reviewing the complaint," the spokesman said. "What I can tell you is that we advertise in appropriate venues to reach those parents of children who may benefit from the use of children's Claritin, not to the children themselves."
An FTC spokeswoman told TheWrap that the agency has received the complaint and will review it.
DreamWorks had no comment for TheWrap.
"Madagascar 3" has taken a particularly aggressive approach to promotional tie-ins, with everything from children's shampoos to tofu getting stamped with the movie's brand. Dole even agreed to put stickers on 100 million bananas, referring to the pilot monkeys who besiege the film's villain with a banana cannon.
The film has grossed more than $128 million at the box office since its June 8 release, according to Box Office Mojo.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.