February 07, 2006

Merck: Profits First, Patients Second

Merck is administering a major public relations antidote in the form of a new advertising campaign, just in time for a new lawsuit against Merck claiming that its painkiller, Vioxx, caused someone to die, and that Merck rushed Vioxx to market even though it knew it wasn't safe,

Have you seen the ads? I know they have been around for a few months. But here's the slogan:

"Merck. Where Patients Come First."

In a story in the NY Times entitled "A Drug Maker's Ads, Hold the Disclaimer," here's what one brand and customer-loyalty consultant, Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys in New York, said about the Merck campaign: "a great idea" because "the castle has been under siege for a long, long time..."Merck would be wise to make sure it has more friends than disgruntled patients," Mr. Passikoff said. "Ultimately, you're better off having a tighter emotional bond to your customer base."

What a concept. It's better to have more friends than disguntled patients. I bet this guy gets paid alot of money to come up with these kernels of wisdom.

Here is John Mack, editor and publisher of Pharma Marketing News talking about the Merck Vioxx scandal:

When Merck pulled Vioxx off the market I admired the company's courage to do the "right thing" by putting people's lives before profits. The decision was widely applauded -- except on Wall Street where Merck immediately lost 27% of its market value.
A few days later it was revealed that Merck may have known about Vioxx's cardiovascular side effect problems for years and tried very hard to conceal the evidence and block any action by the FDA. While this was going on an estimated 27,000 people suffered heart attacks and who knows how many strokes possibly due to Vioxx!
If this obstructionism by Merck is true, then someone should pay. While Merck's CEO may get his golden parachute sooner than planned, the small Merck stock and mutual fund investor is really being punished-Merck's stock has lost about 40% of its market value since the withdrawal of Vioxx.

In the final analysis, the Merck ad is basically a lie, because as a corporation, profits always come first. Patients and customers always come second. The purpose of a corporation is to make as much money as possible, to provide the largest return to its shareholders as possible. If, in the process, it brings something its patients or customers want or need, then so be it.

The ad campaign is simply a response to bad press Merck has been receiving because of Vioxx. It has come out with a reality-altering advertising sedative to soothe public opinion.

Can we blame Merck for wanting to improve its image? Of course not. Can we let Merck fool us? I hope not.

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