Selling Gardasil at the Movies

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When moviegoers catch up on the antics of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte this summer, many will first have to sit through a big screen ad for Gardasil, the vaccine against human papilloma virus (HPV) that is aimed at combating cervical cancer. The ad campaign by the drug manufacturer Merck debuted during the premiere of Sex and the City and will run through June 26 in movie theaters across the country. The ad campaign, according to Merck, is aimed at 19-26-year-old women. It will also will be shown before other summer movie releases including Get Smart>/i> that likely will reach younger audiences — Gardasil is approved for girls age nine to 26.

Although the stated aim of the movie ads is to reach the 19-26 year olds, who dominate the Sex and the City fan base, the ad also will be shown in theaters playing movies like You Don't Mess with the Zohan and The Incredible Hulk raising speculation that young boys may be a target. Merck has acknowledged it is testing Gardasil on boys and young men who can carry the HPV virus with an eye to seeking FDA approval.

It is the latest in Merck's attempt to get the word out on its breakthrough vaccine. Last year, Merck was criticized for its association with the "Women in Government" lobbying campaign that drafted female state legislators in persuading their colleagues to adopt mandatory Gardasil vaccinations for young girls. The push caused a ruckus in some quarters and advocates like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a conservative Republican, found himself under fire from his own supporters when he tried to mandate the vaccinations. His executive order was reversed by the state legislature.

Merck has not said how much the movie ad buy cost the company, but it has acknowledged that it is about the same as last year's television buy for a spot dubbed "I chose..." which now can be seen on the company's website. The ad features mothers talking to their daughters about the need to address HPV concerns. Gardasil protects against four strains of the HPV virus, two of which cause 70% of cervical cancer cases. The other two strains can cause other HPV manifestations like genital warts. A study last year published in the New England Journal of Medicine has also found a link between the virus and throat cancer, prompting speculation that the vaccine might be useful in treating HPV spread by oral sex.