Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pre-emptive framing: Business vs. interest groups

Merck & Co., Inc. (or Merck Sharp & Dohme, as it is known outside the US) has launched their “Putting patients first” campaign, with a series of TV ads currently running on network and cable television.

Faced with fierce public opposition from religious organizations and environmental groups on issues, such as stem cell, biotech, and nanotech, companies like Merck are beginning image campaigns that parallel those already used by European pharmaceutical firms (see nano|public posting from July 10, 2006). These campaigns are a direct response to issues like the Vioxx debacle, but they also have a more long-term goal: to prevent future backlashes against emerging technologies

Ther Merck advertisements, especially the “Achievement” ad, does an excellent job of with promoting positive images of science and scientists, and highlighting individual benefits for patients and consumers as the primary goal of scientific research.

More importantly, however, the ad frames research on emerging technologies as a question of ethics and trust, and associates the Merck brand with these “high standards” of doing research and doing business. Pre-emptive ad campaigns like these are especially interesting since Merck and others are taking their strategies directly from the playbooks of Greenpeace and other environmental interest groups, who successfully took ownership of issues like trust and ethics during previous public debates on biotech or fossil fuels.

Here’s an excerpt from the ad (to see the full TV ad, click here):

“… our 8,000 scientists conduct exciting new research --- to develop medicines that prevent and cure diseases, like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. [Richard T. Clark, CEO & President, Merck & Co., Inc.:] “Here at Merck we have always believed that the process of discovering new medicines has to include rigorous scientific research, conducted under high standards of ethical behavior. Meeting these high standards is at the heart of what we are and how we do business.”