Marketers rush to aid tsunami-relief efforts

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Realizing that manifest mercantilism doesn't sit well at a time of international tragedy, some U.S. marketers are putting aside self-promotion in favor of efforts aimed at helping the victims of the tsunamis that have devastated Southeast Asia and Eastern Africa.

While the beleaguered pharmaceutical industry has done its part with donations of cash and medicinal products, several high-profile companies have gone even further. They have turned their normal sales and marketing channels into conduits for aid by tapping into their connection with consumers.

Apple transformed the home page for its Web sites in the U.S., U.K., Italy, France, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Finland, Denmark, Singapore, Asia, Australia, South Africa, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong-nearly half of the 32 regions where it has a dedicated Web page-into an information site for tsunami-relief donations.

Several others have done the same., the world's biggest Internet retailer, added a large box in the middle of its gateway page with a message and a link to donate. As of noon on Dec. 30, the company had received more than $4 million in donations at the rate of more than $1,000 per minute, an Amazon spokesman said.

Google, the most-used Web search engine, made an exception to its policy of a blank home page by providing a link titled "Ways to help with tsunami relief."

Time Warner's America Online also placed a highlighted link on its welcome page. AOL said it would donate $200,000 to relief efforts, and the company is matching employee donations up to $50,000 per individual.

Hit hard in recent weeks by safety concerns over two high-profile prescription drugs, as well as a Food and Drug Administration warning on some over-the-counter pain relievers, drug companies quickly responded to the need for donations.

New York-based Pfizer, which recently suspended all consumer marketing in the wake of safety issues over arthritis drug Celebrex, is donating $10 million to various relief groups and contributing $25 million in company health-care products such as anti-infectives Zithromax, Zyvox and Diflucan.

Merck, which was forced to pull its own arthritis drug, Vioxx, off the market after studies found an increased risk of heart attack, pledged an initial contribution of $250,000 to the American Red Cross. The Whitehouse Station, N.J., marketer will also donate medicines.

more millions

Johnson & Johnson is donating $2 million in cash as well as wound-care and personal-care products, and Abbott Laboratories is sending $2 million in cash and another $2 million in products, including PediaSure, its nutritional drink for children.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., New York, sent $100,000 through the Red Cross and as well as contributing antibiotics. Kaiser Permanente, one of the country's largest hospital systems, donated $100,000 to the Red Cross and said it will send some of its 5,000 affiliated doctors to the region.

Other blue-chip marketers making donations include JP Morgan Chase, with $4 million in aid; CitiGroup, with $3 million; Cisco Systems, with at least $2.5 million; Pepsi, with $1 million in cash; American Express, with $1 million plus matching employee donations, and Coca-Cola, donating bottled water and other emergency supplies to the region.

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