Friday, June 03, 2005

New Marketing Campaign "To Build Emotional Ties Between Merck and Consumers"

The NY Times reported that Merck is embarking on a big $20 million marketing campaign to "help burnish its corporate brand rather than sell its products."
Len Taconi, executive director for corporate communication for Merck, said, "It's an important time for people to know who Merck is and what we stand for as a company."
Robert Passikoff, President of Brand Keys, described by the Times as "a brand and customer-loyalty consultant," said "Merck would be wise to make sure it has more friends than disgruntled patients. Ultimately, you're better off having a tighter emotional bond to your customer base." The Times also reported that the "campaign will try in several ways to build emotional ties between Merck and consumers."
Of course, Merck is a firm that has been around for a long time, and has produced many important products that we physicians have been happy to use> Merck certainly seemed, at least through the start of the 1990's, to be one of the great American companies.
However, in the last year, Merck has come under substantial fire for putting marketing before science, and in particular for manipulating scientific evidence about its formerly hot selling drug Vioxx, now withdrawn from the market.
For example, we have posted about how Merck tried to "neutralize" Vioxx opponents; about how Merck tried to downplay negative results of studies about Vioxx; about how Merck had a New England Journal article reporting a key trial of Vioxx ghost-written; and about how Merck marketed Vioxx as a general-purpose pain reliever in the absence of evidence that it any better in this role than a variety of cheaper drugs, while again down-playing data about its adverse effects.
So perhaps rather than trying to "build emotional ties," in my humble opinion, if Merck wants to regain the profession's and the public's trust, it should rededicate itself to doing valid, honest research about its products, and then presenting its results clearly and honestly. Merck should promote evidence-based health care, rather than spending $20 million on emotion-based marketing.

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