January 2009

Have You Voted Yet?  TOADY Polls Close February 8; Vive la Quebec!  Food Company Found Guilty of Violating Kid Ad Ban; New Review Finds No Benefits, Possible Harm from Baby Videos; Quick Reads on the Web; Book Review:  Living Without the Screen:  Causes and Consequences of Life without Television by Marina Krcmar; EDITORIAL:  Protecting the First Daughters (and Other Kids, Too) - by Susan Linn

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Have You Voted Yet?  TOADY Polls Close February 8

Excitement is building around CCFC’s inaugural TOADY Award.   Just one week into voting, more than 4,000votes have already been cast for the worst toy of the year.  Some CCFC members, however, have yet to make up their mind because, as several wrote to us, “They’re all so awful.”  Meanwhile, TOADY debates have erupted in the blogosphere, as the nomination of Lego Batman:  The Video Game has sent a number of gamers into a tizzy.   The other nominees are Baby Alive Learns to Potty, the Fisher Price Cadillac Escalade, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Barbie, and the Fisher Price Smart Cycle.

CCFC will announce the winner on February 12, right before the Toy Industry Association announces its own TOTY (Toy Of  The Year) winners.  If you haven’t voted yet, please visit http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/actions/toady.html.   And remember, all voters who provide an email address will be eligible to win a copy of Consuming Kids:  The Commercialization of Childhood – a brand new film from the Media Education Foundation featuring the CCFC staff and Steering Committee

Vive la Quebec!  Food Company Found Guilty of Violating Kid Ad Ban

In the Canadian Province of Quebec, it is illegal toadvertiseto children under 13.  And they mean it.  This week, Saputo Inc., plead guilty to twenty-two charges of violating the ad ban for using Igor the Gorilla to marketsnack cakes in daycare centers.  Similar charges are pending against McDonald’s, Burger King and General Mills.

Quebec’s child advertising ban is wildly popular.  A recent survey found that nine out of ten Quebecers think that it is necessary to control advertising targeting children.  Most of the respondents thought that the Consumer Protection Act (Loi sur la protection du consommateur) banning advertising targeting children under 13 should be enforced “more severely” (60%) or “as severely” (31%).   For more information, visit http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/news/2009/01/junkfoodwars.html.

New Review Finds No Benefits, Possible Harm from Baby Videos

A new review of research by Dmitri Christakis, MD, provides still more support for the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of no screen time for children under two.  In the January issue of Acta Pediatrica,  Dr. Christakis concludes that, “No studies to date have demonstrated benefits associated with early infant TV viewing” and the “preponderance of existing evidence suggests the potential for harm.”  Raising awareness about the false and deceptive marketing of baby media as educational remains one of CCFC’s most important campaigns.

Quick Reads on the Web

CCFC's "In the News" is the most complete and up-to-date archive of articles on marketing to children on the web.  Subscribe to our RSS feed or check out our website for the latest.  “In the News” this month:

Pink Makes Me See Red – Child Development expert Sue Palmer writes, “Today's pink plague is a wake-up call. Marketing to children under eight is downright immoral  -  and we should do our best to stop it.” 

Your Client's Ad in Public Schools – A marketer’s (uncritical) perspective on in-school advertising.

Book Review:  Living Without the Screen:  Causes and Consequences of Life without Television by Marina Krcmar

Living Without the Screen is a systematic, in-depth look at the lives of families and individuals who live without television.  Krcmar explores questions such as how non-viewers view themselves, the ways that they believe their lives are different, why they have chosen to live without television, and how adults and children without television spend their leisure time.  She also compares the lives of adults and children who watch television with those who don't. 

Krcmar’s in-depth interviews with children are particularly interesting.  The challenge of social interaction for adolescents – e.g. not being able to talk about American Idol – is the only even vaguely negative consequence reported by the children interviewed.  And most of them found positive ways to adapt.  By later adolescence,  those who most minded the social challenge in their early teens came to value life without television and swung over to their parents point of view. 

Living without the Screen is serious scholarship and not a light read.  Parents wrestling with screen-time issues – as well as academics and armchair sociologists – will find it more than worth delving into.

EDITORIAL:  Protecting the First Daughters (and Other Kids, Too) - by Susan Linn

When the Ty Company celebrated Barack Obama’s inauguration by exploiting his daughters, the First Parents were understandably outraged.  The company launched two new African American dolls named “Sweet Sasha” and “Marvelous Malia,” laughably denying that they had any connection to the real Obama children.   Michele Obama issued a powerful statement about the dolls saying, “We believe it is inappropriate to use young, private citizens for marketing purposes."  

The Obama’s laudable effort to protect their girls from commercial exploitation is going to be an uphill struggle.  They were already publicly urged to appear on the hit Disney show, Hannah Montana.  The press refers to them as “first tweens,” a marketing demographic dumping ground for children ranging in age from 6 to 14—and the Washington Post has called them “fashion icons.” 

Before his inauguration, President Obama wrote a public letter to his daughters sharing his hopes for them and, by extension, his hopes for all of the children in America. President Obama clearly sees his daughters as individuals, but can also see “every child” in them.  I’m hoping this is one of those times. 

While the form of their exploitation might be unique, the Obama girls are not alone.  Corporate America routinely uses young private citizens for marketing purposes. They might not be turned into dolls, but they are exploited as research tools and as a vast, unpaid sales force.  Companies like The Girls Intelligence Agency exploit children’s friendships by conducting market research during pajama parties.  Nickelodeon and Toys R Us, among others, have conducted market research in elementary schools.  In the name of Internet safety, market research firms track children’s online activities for their corporate clients.    Popular social networking websites like Webkinz and Barbiegirl.com routinely encourage young users to reel in their friends through viral marketing. 

What differentiates the Obamas from other parents struggling to protect their children is that the President actually has the power to take on Corporate America.  As a first step, he could call on Congress to reauthorize the Federal Trade Commission’s capacity to regulate commercial access to children, and repair the damage done when it was stripped of much of its power at the dawn of the Reagan era.   As his administration reclaims the right of government to set limits on the market, I hope he remembers his children—and other people’s children as well. 

Support CCFC.  We rely on our members because we will not compromise our commitment to children by accepting corporate funding. To make a tax-free contribution, please visit http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/donate.