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Thursday, June 30, 2005 11:16 pm

common sense 6-30-05

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Merck, the $5.2 billion-a-year drug giant, is upset that people think it’s a greedheaded bloodsucker. So Merck’s executives have decided to do something. Does that mean they’ll stop their greedheaded bloodsucking? Don’t be insane — bloodsucking is wildly profitable!

No, no, Merck’s honchos want to deal with the appearance of bloodsucking, not tamper with the moneymaking reality. Therefore they have now launched a $20 million advertising blitz to portray the drug maker as a teddy bear of a corporation. Their PR slogan is “Merck: where patients come first.”

How cuddly. Less cuddly, however, is the recent revelation that Merck’s bestselling drug, the pain reliever Vioxx, has had an unfortunate side effect called death in quite a few patients. It seems that Merck’s top executives knew about this side effect but withheld the information — all the better to reap profits before the news got out.

Now Merck hopes to deflect public disgust with ads featuring cute children, adding a tagline asserting that this altruistic corporation is out to eliminate cancer and Alzheimer’s so such adorable children should never suffer. What’s not to love about that?

Another ad features an interview with a guy saying that people shouldn’t “have to choose between their groceries and their medicine.” The announcer then intones: “At Merck, we believe in the same things you do.” Gosh, really? Then why did Merck hire lobbyists to push through a law making it illegal for us to import Merck’s medicines from Canada at a third of the price the bloodsucker is charging us here at home?

You don’t have to be in Who’s Who to know what’s what. When a corporation throws $20 million into a PR campaign to try to tell you that it’s “good,” it isn’t.

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