06/20/2012 09:03 am ET Updated Jun 20, 2012

'Madagascar 3' Complaint Urges Federal Trade Commission To Stop Tie-Ins With Children's Claritin

Health-advocacy groups filed a joint complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, aiming to stop pharma giant Merck from using "Madagascar 3" characters to market Grape-Flavored Chewable Children’s Claritin.

The animal characters from the Dreamworks movie are also licensed for candy ads, such as Airheads and General Mills' gummy snacks. Children could potentially overdose on the allergy medication because they think it's candy, the groups said in a press release. They also said the advertising violates FTC precedent.

“Marketing medicine directly to children at all, much less through entertainment tie-ins, is well beyond the pale and is not only inherently unfair, it is downright dangerous,” said Mark Gottlieb, executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law.

The institute joined ChangeLab Solutions, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy and seven other organizations in lodging the complaint.

Merck countered with this statement emailed to The Huffington Post: "We advertise in appropriate venues to reach those parents of children who may benefit from the use of children's Claritin. The advertising is directed to the parents of children viewing the movies, not to the children themselves."

The campaign for Children's Claritin's uses medicine packages marked with Madagascar 3 characters and containing “5 Free Stickers.” Drugstores prominently display mail-in voucher promotions for the popular children's film series, according to the groups. The tie-ins also included a "Children's Claritin Mom Crew," in which members threw "Madagascar"-themed viewing parties for children featuring product samples and popcorn containers, the complaint said.

The film -- the third in the Ben Stiller- and Chris Rock-voiced series featuring jungle animals domesticated by a zoo -- has already made nearly $120 million in ticket sales.

This story was updated at 11 a.m. on June 20 with a statement from Merck.