by Jim Hightower
Merck -- the $5.2-billion-a-year drug giant -- is upset that people think it's a greed-headed bloodsucker. So, by Jove, Merck's executives have decided to do something about their problem. Does that mean they'll stop their greed-headed 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 money-making reality. Thus, they have now launched a $20-million advertising blitz to portray themselves as a huggable, teddy bear of a corporation. Their PR slogan is, "Merck: Where patients come first."
How cuddly. Less cuddly, however, is the fact that this blast of corporate back-patting follows the recent revelation that Merck's best-selling drug, the pain reliever Vioxx, has had, in quite a few patients who trusted it, an unfortunate side-effect called "death." Also, it seems that Merck's top executives knew about this side effect but withheld the information from doctors, patients, the media, and regulators -- all the better to suck profits before the news got out.
Now that the ugly news is out, 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 of the ads features a man-on-the-street 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 a horde of lobbyists to push through a law making it illegal for us folks in the USA to import Merck's medicines from Canada at a third of the price they are 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.