PBS deserves tons of awards. But not for selling kids on fast food.
Last year, the popular PBS Kids show Martha Speaks entered into a 4-year agreement to promote fast food purveyor Chick-fil-A. The multi-pronged campaign, whose stated goals include to “reach children” and “drive brand preference and restaurant traffic,” includes 15-second ads for Chick-fil-A before and after Martha Speaks TV episodes; advertising on the PBS Kids’ website; and in-store promotions at more than 1600 Chick-fil-A locations. In 2011, an astounding 56 million Chick-fil-A Kids’ Meals were distributed in Martha Speaks co-branded bags. PBS executives refuse to say what they have planned for the 30 months left in the promotion.
You might think that PBS would be ashamed of using a highly-regarded children’s show to lure kids to Chick-fil-A, especially since a kids’ meal can contain as much as 670 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 25 grams of sugar. Instead, PBS is using the “success” of its fast food campaign to attract other sponsors looking to target children. The Sponsorship Group for Public Television features a case study on the Chick-fil-A campaign to convince companies that sponsoring kids’ shows on PBS can help meet their marketing goals. And PBS member station WGBH—which produces Martha Speaks—actually nominated its Chick-fil-A campaign for a kids marketing award. On June 7 in New York City, the Chick-fil-A/Martha Speaks promotions are competing for a Cynopsis Imagination Award for “Best Promotional Campaign.”
We support public broadcasting and abhor the ongoing political attacks on funding PBS’s excellent programming. But public television has an obligation to put the wellbeing of children first. Campaigns like the Chick-fil-A/Martha Speaks partnership make it difficult to distinguish PBS from corporate networks generating profits by selling kids on junk.
Children deserve better. Using a beloved children's character to entice kids to eat fast food is nothing to celebrate. So let’s tell PBS and WGBH to end their Chick-fil-A promotion—and withdraw from the Cynopsis Awards.