Merck shows signs of life in consumer health with new promo campaign

Merck & Co. hasn't spent huge amounts of time and resources pushing its consumer health business. While other Big Pharmas like Sanofi ($SNY) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) went around the world snapping up smaller businesses in the space, Merck ($MRK) at first weighed the idea of selling off the consumer unit it acquired in its 2009 merger with Schering-Plough.

Two years ago, Merck decided to hang onto it. CEO Kenneth Frazier said it would have to grow, however, to be worth Merck's effort. And the unit's growth at the time was one reason why Merck kept the unit. Its sales were growing faster than the prescription drug side of things. Frazier figured some global deals, particularly in emerging markets, would be part of the ticket to making that unit a more productive asset.

But we haven't seen much action there. Last quarter, the consumer unit was one of the few bright spots, sales-wise, albeit a small one. The business grew sales by 3%, a rate that's really only impressive compared with the 9% declilne overall. And for 2012, it only delivered $1.95 billion to Merck's top line. Frazier hinted that its time might be limited, saying the company must "consistently look at and evaluate" how consumer health can be a "meaningful contributor."

Now, Merck has launched its first-ever health campaign focused on the consumer business. The Active Family Project, with headliner celebrity mom Elizabeth Hasselbeck of the television show "The View," will aim its healthy-lifestyle advocacy at mothers--who are, as the company notes in its press release, the people who "actively manage the well-being of their families and themselves."

The campaign looks to support such products as the Coppertone line of sunscreens and skin care, Dr. Scholl's foot products, and Claritin over-the-counter allergy remedies using a website, social media activities and mobile-access "playtime" guide, among other efforts. Get active outside, and put on some Merck-made sunscreen while you're at it.

- see Merck's release
- get the Associated Press story

Special Report: Merck - Top Pharma Companies by 2012 Revenues