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When 'Madagascar' Meets Children's Claritin

Merck is catching flak for marketing Children's Claritin with cute cartoon characters from the latest installment in the Madagascar movie series.

An advocacy group has complained to the Federal Trade Commission that the drugmaker is flouting restrictions originally developed for children's vitamins that should also apply to health remedies used by kids.

"Marketing materials designed to appeal to children, like those used in Merck's Madagascar 3 campaign for its Children's Claritin products, violate the Commission's longstanding precedent in this area and are inherently unfair and deceptive," according to the complaint filed by the Public Health Advocacy Institute.

The use of characters from Dreamworks' Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, goes beyond their appearance on Claritin packages, the group says. Under a previously established exception, that limited use might be OK, the group notes.

But there are free stickers featuring movie characters included in some packages. And Claritin is big on Facebook, where there's a whole section devoted to the children's version of the drug and Madagascar 3 tie-ins. Plus, other products geared to kids, such as Airheads candy and General Mills' gummy snacks, are also using characters from Madagascar, which could lead to confusion.

The advocacy group also complains that Merck has turned to a group of bloggers, known as the Children's Claritin Mom Crew, to hold Madagascar 3 viewing parties for kids, complete with movie DVDs, product samples and coupons. A quick search of Web turns up quite a few accounts of parties, including this one, mentioned in the group's complaint.

Merck stands by its marketing of the drug. "We are currently reviewing the complaint," Merck spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty said in a email to Shots. "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."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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