Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to school with PepsiCo stealth marketing?

I recently blogged about questions regarding how PepsiCo's voluntary beverage guidelines, announced in March, would be implemented in schools given that contracts are made at the local level. Now with back-to-school in full swing, I have even more questions about how PepsiCo may be using stealth marketing techniques to gain access to that coveted captive K-12 audience.

Today, the company announced a new program it calls Score for Your School. From the press release:

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Today is the First Day of Kmart's Marketing Assault on Children

Later today, Alloy Media + Marketing, will launch First Day, its latest web series for children and teens on the Internet channel AlloyTV. An Alloy press release suggests the show will have it all – if by all you mean the full gamut of troubling trends in youth marketing.

Because First Day will air on the web instead of a traditional television channel, the FCC’s rules that dictate strict separation of commercial content and programming matter do not apply. That means that, unlike children’s television shows, First Day can feature product placement. That’s where Kmart comes in. Not only will the characters wear Kmart’s back-to-school fashions (Dream Out Loud by Selena Gomez, Rebecca Bonbon and Bongo), but Kmart actually helped create the script for First Day, so expect the clothes to play a prominent role in the show’s narrative. And if you’re creating a Kmart infomercial, why stop there?
First Day will also feature a unique retail component in each episode. Kmart will "hotspot" its fashions throughout the series, enabling viewers to buy the inspired looks worn by the lead characters by means of a direct link to the products on the Kmart website.
When they click through to the Kmart website, what will they find? Perhaps images like these that are being used to promote the same Bongo line in Seventeen magazine and Teen Vogue, two publications whose readers skew younger than their titles imply:

Or this ad that touts Bongo’s junior line for “back to school” at Kmart’s parent company, Sears:

It’s as if Kmart designed their back-to-school campaign using the exploitative marketers’ handbook. Use sex to sell tween girls on clothes. Create “branded entertainment” so that children won’t realize they’re really watching ads. Use interactive technology so that kids can click right from the “program” they’re watching to the checkout line. Add a viral component so that children’s friendships are commercialized; Kmart is offering applications for kids to upload to their phones so they can tweet their purchases to their friends.

And of course, promote your brand in schools. Kmart is also advertising its fall fashions on Alloy’s controversial in-school television network, Channel One. For students in the 8,000 schools with Channel One, viewing Kmart’s ads will be a compulsory part of the school day. That’s right – Kmart will be using class time paid for by your tax dollars to promote its clothing to a captive audience of students.

Kmart clearly believes that its provocative marketing strategy will result in more sales, but I’m not so sure. There are a growing number of parents who are saying, “if you want my business, treat me and my children with respect.” That’s a lesson that Kmart clearly hasn’t learned. Maybe we need to teach them that this fall.

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Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

A Source of Solace, Not Ad Revenue – This Miami Herald article, quoting CCFC's Susan Linn, criticizes a proposal in Miami to allow advertising in public parks.  The author concludes, “To accommodate a plethora of commercial imagery in county parks is to fill them with visual pollution. The premise of the commercial culture is that buying things will make us happier. But no purchase is enough to achieve happiness. Instead, an encounter with nature—without an assault by this culture of consumerism—offers life's best gift.” http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/28/1796085/a-source-of-solace-not-ad-revenue.html

Kids in Their Sights – Canada’s Financial Post details the global political struggle to limit junk food ads aimed at kids in an effort to curb childhood obesity.  While child health experts point out that the failure of ad industry self-regulation proves that “the fox does a really poor job of guarding the henhouse,” advertising execs claim that the parent has the purchasing power and is the “CEO of the household.”  Meanwhile, childhood obesity rates continue to soar, and a new study on global food advertising to children finds that 67% of food ads targeted at kids in 11 countries are for unhealthy food. http://www.financialpost.com/news/Kids+their+sights/3452015/story.html

Don't Touch That Disney Channel -- and Many Other Things, in Blogger Experiment – The St. Petersburg Times spotlight’s Lisa “The Corporate Babysitter” Ray’s family’s year without Disney. http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/dont-touch-that-disney-channel-mdash-and-many-other-things-in-blogger/1117944

Crest and Oral-B Try to Make Dental Care Cool – The two companies launch a marketing campaign aimed at kids as young as 8, which includes a phone app called “Yuck Mouth” to teach kids about healthy oral care…oh yes, and to sell them on Crest and Oral-B products. http://www.sacbee.com/2010/08/20/2971664/crest-and-oral-b-introduce-pro.html

Kids are Influencing $10.9 Billion in Videogame Purchases; Over 90% of Kids are Playing Games Online
– Children influence half of all video game purchases—to the tune of $10.9 billion—according to the new M2 market research study. http://www.gamingbusinessreview.com/m2kidsandgamesreport.htm

Popular Demand: Teenage Texting and More – New stats reported in the New York Times show that the number of teens visiting social networks from their mobile phones increased 81% this year.  (It’s no wonder that marketers are increasingly targeting teens and pre-teens with cell phone advertising.)  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/08/23/business/media/23mostwanted.html

FCC Appeals Fox Indecency Ruling – FCC, with the support of the Justice Department, appeals Second Circuit’s Court of Appeals decision on its indecency (“fleeting expletives”) enforcement policy, claiming that the court’s decision would make creating a new enforcement policy a “seeming impossibility.”  http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/456402-FCC_Appeals_Fox_Indecency_Ruling.php

The Hub Adds New Pop Culture Series “Hubworld” to Network’s Original Programming Line Up – The new show “Hubworld” is described as “a pop culture magazine show that infuses what's happening in the life of everyday kids with what's happening on The Hub television network,” the new children’s network by Hasbro and Discovery.  The show will feature highlights of Hub shows and segments “keeping up with what’s going on in the world of entertainment, music, sports and much more.”  Might the “much more” category include new Hasbro toys and licensed merchandise by any chance? http://www.pr-inside.com/the-hub-adds-new-pop-culture-r2080991.htm

Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime – Studies show that being constantly hooked into technology deprives the brain of downtime needed to process and remember information, which is essential to learning.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/technology/25brain.html
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dethroning the Disney Princesses

According to newspaper reports, researchers are exploring links between a girlhood characterized by “princess culture,” and womanhood fraught with narcissism, materialism, and overspending. No adult behavior can be explained solely by one thing—human beings are complicated creatures. But these researchers are on to something. We pass cultural values on through the stories we tell and the toys we give to children. The messages they take away from what they see, hear, and experience contribute to their understanding of the world and how it works.

Much has been written about the negative impact of impossibly built fashion dolls on how girls conceptualize beauty, and how they feel about their bodies. For many parents, the Disney Princesses seem like the lesser of several evils—perhaps they aren’t quite as in-your-face sexualized as the Bratz, or My Scene Barbies, or the new Monster High Dolls. But, in addition to promoting the dream that irks so many feminists—someday a prince will come and solve all of my problems—Disney Princess films, sequels, prequels and products subject little girls to clear messages about class and entitlement.

In The Case for Make Believe, I relate the following conversation with a four year old Disney princess aficionado:
“What’s a princess?” I asked Abigail. “A rich girl,” she answered promptly, “with a kingdom.” She was a bit fuzzy on exactly what a kingdom is, however. “It’s got lots of rooms,” she explained tentatively. Then her eyes grew big and round, sparkling with excitement. “And now there’s no food in it!” “Oh, no!” I groaned. “Yes!” she said with joyful urgency. “The servants have run out of ingredients!”
In the wonderful world of Disney, the female ideal is a rich girl living in a big house with lots of servants. And while the company has given the nod girls of color—Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana—the crème de la crème of princesshood, the ones featured most prominently in the princess brand, are white: Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Snow White, and Aurora.

Truth be told, I love fairy tales. While my fondness for them sometimes rests uneasily on my social conscience (the themes may be deep and complex, but the characters are not), I understand why they have so much meaning for young children. Classic stories of perseverance rewarded, good triumphing over evil, and the weak overcoming the powerful are valuable for kids as they grapple with the immense cognitive, physical and emotional demands of growing up socialized. And our exploration of fairy tales doesn’t have to be limited to the Western European versions that are so popular in the United States. After all, the original Cinderella story is the Chinese Shen Teh—and there are magical tales handed down for centuries from all over the world. In their original forms they are often explorations of important themes universal to children—sibling rivalry, family discord, loss, and redemption. But in the Disney versions of fairy tales, the deeper themes get lost amid the talking teapots and adorable singing mice. The films are enjoyable and the do what Disney does best—create longing for a magical world where virtue is synonymous with beauty and ultimately rewarded by material wealth.

Back when a movie was mostly just a movie seen only in theaters, princess values didn’t necessarily permeate little girlhood. But with miniaturized screen technology and tens of thousands of princess products on the market, that’s no longer the case. It’s not just that children see the films repeatedly, so that the scripts are embedded in their brains. Their play about the films is constricted by the plethora of princess toys and accessories. In addition, the image of the princesses—plastered on sheets, wallpaper, toothbrushes, snacks, backpacks and pretty much everything under the sun—dominates children’s experience of the stories.

One reason that commercialization is so harmful for children is that marketers exploit and pervert normal developmental stages—in this case, gender identification—so that corporate messages dominate how a child’s world view is shaped. Children, naturally attracted to glitter and longing to be so much more more powerful, are sitting ducks for gendered marketing like the Disney’s Princess selling machine. A society that does not protect kids from being immersed in advertising is complicit in their exploitation and the harms caused by it. As the father of a tiny potential consuming princess fanatic laments, unless you move to the woods it’s just about impossible for little girls to avoid the world according to her majesties Cinderella, and Ariel et al.

So what’s a parent to do? Until and unless we change the culture, you can set some limits and at least keep your daughters from drowning in The Little Mermaid and other Princess paraphernalia. Here are just a few options:

For babies and toddlers: Avoid purposely exposing young children to screen-based entertainment, at least until they ask for it, and limit exposure after that. You can at least put off instilling the expectation that the Disney princesses are essential to a happy girlhood.

For preschoolers: You might choose to avoid the films altogether. But if you love them, and want to share them, go ahead—but do so with the understanding that you’re not going to let Disney dictate your child’s post-film experience. Encourage hands-on creative play free of branded products.

From preschool on: Surround your kids with books of multi-cultural stories, including folk and fairy tales. And make sure to include stories that defy stereotypes. If your daughters love frufru and want to play princess, then haunt thrift shops and the closets of friends and family for cast off finery. Keep talking with children about your values and how they are similar and different from the commercial values celebrated by Disney and other corporations with a corner on the kid market.

Oh, and one last thing. Join the movement to stop companies from targeting children directly with marketing. Gender stereotyping and materialistic values aren’t the only inevitable harms of a commercialized childhood.
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Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

Digital Diversions Leave Teens, Parents Sleep-Deprived – New study shows that 80% of adolescents don’t get enough sleep, even though 90% of parents think they do. The study finds that “digital diversions,” like cell phones, are major factors of the sleep deprivation, which is supported by the finding that 4 out of 5 teens sleep with their mobile phones and wake up to respond to text messages. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/23/AR2010082305482.html

Princess Culture Turning Girls Into Overspending Narcissists – A commercial culture that tells girls they can be Disney princesses by purchasing products gives way to narcissistic adults and loads of credit card debt, say researchers. http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Princess+culture+turning+girls+into+overspending+narcissists/3403856/story.html

M2 Research Reports 90 Percent of 'Tweens' are Playing Games Online; Mobile and Social Media Use on the Rise Among Children – New market research finds 93% of so-called ‘tween’ boys and 91% of ‘tween’ girls play online games and calls this a “Sweet Spot” for advertisers. The research also finds that social networking sites are increasingly popular with youngsters, with boys 8-11 and girls 12-15 reporting Facebook (which is renowned for its lax privacy controls) as their favorite site. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2010/08/prweb4392494.htm

Want Your Kid to Get Ahead? Learn From the Gorillas
– Free-Range Kids founder Lenore Skenazy, drawing from Susan Linn’s The Case for Make Believe, playfully describes the primal importance of children’s creative play—and the importance of battling its erosion by screen activities—for children’s healthy and happy development. http://www.parentdish.com/2010/08/24/want-your-kid-to-get-ahead-learn-from-the-gorillas/

The Summer Movie Marketing Report Card – Ad Age reviews and grades major film studios’summer movie marketing campaigns. Iron Man 2’s Paramount and Twilight’s Summit score well; apparently the marketing of these PG-13 movies to children (with, for example, tie-ins with Burger King Kids Meals) scores high in the marketing industry. http://adage.com/madisonandvine/article?article_id=145495

New Law to Forbid Junk Food Ads on Estonian TV – A draft of a law that may be approved by the Estonian Parliament would ban junk food ads on children’s TV shows there. If the law passes, Estonia will join other EU countries that are enforcing limits on advertising for low nutrient foods aimed at children. http://www.estonianfreepress.com/2010/08/new-law-to-forbid-junk-food-ads-on-estonian-tv/

Volkswagen Drives TLC.com Family Travel Content
– In an effort to market the Volkswagen Routan minivan, VW sponsors an original online series “The Great Getaway” with VW branding integral to the program. This KidScreen article concludes that more of this kind of branded content can be expected: “The partnership shows how content providers are creating custom platforms upon which advertisers can introduce new products and reach their target audience.” http://www.kidscreen.com/articles/news/20100818/tlc.html

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ralph Lauren: Ganging Up on Kids

The inevitable late summer plague has arrived. No, I’m not talking about mosquitoes, or poison ivy, or humidity. I’m talking about the back-to-school fashion frenzy. The buzz this year is about “interactivity." Shopping is now supposed to be ever so much more than interacting with our wallets. Some stores offer shopping sprees to “haulers,” kids who show off their purchases on YouTube. Others encourage them to play disc jockey on life size MP3 players when they walk in. Even clothes themselves have to be interactive. There’s some brand promoting different shaped stick-on patches so that kids can personalize their garments (“But mom, everyone is personalizing this year. If I don’t personalize, I won’t look like everybody else.”)

And then there’s Ralph Lauren. The designer who blessed us with “preppy” in the 1980s has produced a new online book for kids. And guess what? It’s interactive! Little fashionistas can click on the clothes the characters wear—and buy them. An ad on the front page of NYTimes.com called it “The First Shoppable Children’s Storybook.”

The Wall Street Journal touted the brand’s literary debut, The RL Gang, as a threat to Dr. Seuss. Wow. Here’s the plot: Eight kids, cute as hell, arrive at school sporting way cool clothes. A “well-dressed” man enters the room. It’s their teacher, the only visible part of whom is his torso, clad in . . .Ralph Lauren. They kids count to twenty and land in a magical wood, in totally new outfits. They find a little tree that isn’t thriving. They get sad. A kid named River suggests that they water the tree. They do. It transforms instantly into a full grown apple tree bearing fruit. And the kids wear yet another set of outfits. They pick the apples. They count to twenty. They arrive back at school. The room is empty. Their well-dressed teacher’s torso (and presumably the rest of him) is gone. They don’t care. They each give away their apples, but get to keep their trio of first-day-of-school ensembles—for sale in their on-line closets.

The point isn’t, however, that it’s lousy literature. It would be just as problematic if The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins was an online shopping experience. The point is that The RL Gang is another slide down the slippery slope toward seamlessly integrated marketing in children’s lives. David Lauren, Senior Vice President of Advertising, Marketing and Corporate Communications, calls it "merchantainment." Like advergaming, the goal is to make sales by seducing kids into lingering with a product long enough to associate it with fun, or longing, or excitement.

Here’s the problem. We are getting so used to marketers inserting advertising everywhere in children’s lives—in schools, in books, in songs, in games, in the content of movies, that we forget to care. The RL Gang, by itself, is just one little annoyance that most of us can avoid. It’s the aggregate that’s really troubling—a commercialized childhood where everything and everyone is for sale.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

Fashion: School Shoppers Giving a Lesson in Individualism – Marketers target children will back-to-school marketing ploys that tout individualism and expression. http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_15816161?nclick_check=1

Aisle by Aisle, an App That Pushes Bargains – A new location-based phone app called Shopkick follows customers around the mall and markets to them by rewarding them with points as they enter stores, move to the cash registers, and even while they’re in the dressing room!  The points can be redeemed for such things as store coupons or to buy virtual goods on Facebook.  In addition to stores like Best Buy and American Eagle Outfitters, Simon Property Group, the prominent mall operator, will support the app. One AdPulp blogger writes of the app, “If anyone followed you around that much in real life, you'd get a restraining order. But for a discount at a store? No problem.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/technology/17app.html

Tween BeatNew York Times Magazine navigates the terrain of risqué ‘tween’ fashion with new brands like Madonna and 13-year-old daughter Lourdes’ new Material Girl clothing line.  Sexualized with offerings like zebra-print leggings and black body suits, even Madonna admits that her daughter’s style, which inspires the brand, is at once “incredible” and “completely inappropriate for school.” http://nymag.com/fashion/10/fall/67509/

Mattel's Monster High: Twilight Meets Britney Spears – Mattel aims to surround girls with its sexualized new brand, as this Brand Channel article makes clear: “Mattel hopes kids will not only collect the Monster High dolls, clothing and accessories, but play games and watching animated webisodes on its website, become fans on Facebook, read the young adult book series, buy the Halloween costumes at Party City locations across America, and download its catchy theme song on iTunes.” http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2010/08/16/Mattel-Monster-High-Launch.aspx

False Connections – This marketing trade publication observes that with children’s increasing use of technology and social media to connect, children long for “real” connections, like those created through time spent with friends, family, and teachers.  The Media Post article urges marketers to take advantage on this void children feel by inserting their brands.  The author writes, “This sense of connectivity that children are gaining via technology has, to a certain degree, left them craving for "real" connections…This is an ideal opportunity for brands to build (or re-build) some real and genuine connections.” http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=133881

Google and the Search for the Future – Google CEO, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., talks to the Wall Street Journal about privacy in the digital age.  Instead of a focus on protecting young people’s online privacy, Jenkins’ approach is different: “He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704901104575423294099527212.html

Superheroes 'Poor Role Models for Boys'BBC News reviews Professor Sharon Lamb’s study, which finds that Modern-day superheroes marketed to children promote a macho, violent stereotype for young boys. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-10957590.  Sharon answers a critic’s questions on the Packaging Boyhood blog: http://packagingboyhood.com/uncategorized/superheroes-and-the-media/

'Dora' Birthday Special Draws 3.3 Million Viewers – NickJr.com visits and gaming sessions also have highest traffic in months due to the Dora Big Birthday Adventure lead up, with 3.2 million unique website visitors, 63 million page views, and 30 million game sessions from Aug. 9-Aug 15.  Think of all those preschoolers who,
thanks to CCFC, weren’t being prompted to click over to AddictingGames.com! http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/456116-_Dora_Birthday_Special_Draws_3_3_Million_Viewers.php

Aiming to Boost Broadcasters' Commercial Viability
– This Wall Street Journal article points out that in the EU and US, rules allowing more flexibility in broadcast advertising are on the rise.  However, whereas the EU places restrictions on, for example, product placement (requiring disclosure before and after shows containing paid product placements), the U.S. “takes a more relaxed approach,” with the FTC arguing that product placement doesn’t make “objective claims,” and so is not subject to its rules on deceptive or unfair advertising to children.  WSJ subscription required. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703748904575411123371475474.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

Suit Alleges Disney, Other Top Sites Spied on Users - A lawsuit filed in federal court last week alleges that a group of well-known Web sites, including those owned by Disney, Warner Bros. Records, and Demand Media, broke the law by secretly tracking the Web movements of their users, including children. http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-20013672-261.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

Would Kids Eat Fruits and Veggies To Get a Free Fast-Food Toy? – Proposed legislation in San Francisco would allow fast food toys only with meals that have better nutritional quality. http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2010/08/12/would-kids-eat-fruits-and-veggies-to-get-a-free-fast-food-toy/

Do These Jeans Make My Diaper Look Big? – Children’s clothing retailers are selling adult-style “skinny jeans” for toddlers and babies with great success.  Why are children being dressed like adults so young, and what are the possible consequences? This Wall Street Journal article probes these questions. http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052748704901104575423220608807714-lMyQjAxMTAwMDEwMjExNDIyWj.html

Fisher-Price Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of Dora the Explorer With the Debut of its New We Did It! Dora Doll – The press release for the new, more grown up-looking Dora doll markets the toy as follows: “This year, Dora moves her arms, swings her beautiful long hair and swivels her body to the beat as she teaches kids the steps to her signature dance.” http://multivu.prnewswire.com/mnr/fisher-price/45526/

Disney/Pixar's Toy Story 3 Becomes the Highest Grossing Animated Movie Ever - Disney/Pixar cashes in with Toy Story 3, which earned a total of $920 million at the box office. http://www.cynopsis.com/editions/kids/081610/
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Will schools follow new PepsiCo beverage guidelines even if students want Mountain Dew?

This past March, soft drink giant PepsiCo announced with much fanfare a new global school policy. The specific guidelines, to take effect by 2012, limit the types of beverages that are to be sold in schools. According to the press release, the policy will "stop sales of full-sugar soft drinks to primary and secondary schools."

That's why the announcement last week that Union County High School in Indiana was signing on to a brand new five-year contract with Pepsi (thereby ending its exclusive contract with Coca-Cola) came as a surprise. Not the contract itself, but what one school official had to say about it. From the news article:
The new contract is expected to earn the high school and middle  school and booster groups $20,000 more over five years, Union County  Middle School Assistant Principal Mark Detweiler said. Prices for soft drinks will remain $1.25, but school officials expect sales to increase with Pepsi products. "Students drink Mountain Dew," Detweiler said.
They sure do, only problem is, PepsiCo says those products aren't for sale. Or are they?

I asked Derek Yach, director of Global Health Policy at PepsiCo for an explanation and he told me that the vending machines have not been put into place. He also said:
Our intent from the outset has been that the contract be 100 percent compliant with the American Beverage Association / Alliance for a Health Generation guidelines and other relevant PepsiCo policies. Our local teams in Indiana are well aware of this and will work closely with local school officials to ensure compliance.
Yach was referring to yet another voluntary policy announced by the soft drink industry back in 2006.

Someone should have probably clued in the school officials in Indiana at the time they signed the new contract. Were they even made aware of the PepsiCo policy not to sell the worst products, even if they are the most popular?

This raises many questions about how PepsiCo's school policy will play out  in each school district. Indeed, the language of the policy is pretty vague on implementation and enforcement:
PepsiCo will encourage our bottlers, vending companies and third-party distributors to work closely with parents, community leaders and school officials to ensure that only products that meet the following guidelines are offered...
"Encourage?" "Work closely?" And while it's nice to mention them, what do parents and community leaders have to do with school contracts?

Here's what New York University Professor Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics has to say about the Indiana contract:
In my experience, you have to see for yourself, which is why I love visiting schools when I get the chance. With school officials in tow, you can watch kids using the vending machines during the lunch hour with nobody saying a word. The incentive here is to sell MORE product, not less, and that’s the problem.
Right. And here we have the odd situation where the vendors will essentially be telling its customers: Sorry, but we can't sell you Pepsi and Mountain Dew, those products that the kids love best and that will bring you all that extra cash you need to run your programs.

Let's see how well that works.
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Thinking About Allowing Advertising in Your School? Do Your Homework

With schools facing unprecedented budget shortfalls and teacher layoffs, it’s not surprising that so many are considering what just a couple of years ago would have been unthinkable: allowing corporate advertising in their schools. The San Diego Union Tribune reports that the Sweetwater Union High School District has signed a contract with a company called 4 Visual Media Group to allow advertising on its cafeterias, hallways, and school buses. Meanwhile, schools in the Twin Cities area are signing up with a new company called School Media’s to place ads on children’s lockers.

Who are these companies that hope to profit off of schools’ fiscal crises? Let’s start with 4 Visual Media Group. I stumbled upon their website six months ago when doing some research and couldn’t believe what I saw. In a section of its website labeled “Elementary School Media Kit,” the company boasted to potential advertisers:

4VMG's unique form of advertising caters to a captive audience where the viewer can't "change the channel" or "turn the page.” As such, 4VMG’s product is able to capture the attention of the consumer for longer periods of time and with a more specific focus than traditional billboard style advertising.

This is the company that Sweetwater schools has sold their students to. A company that that refers to schoolchildren as consumers and brags about its ability to deliver a captive audience. The fact that advertising in schools exploits a captive audience is the number one reason (of many) that it’s so wrong. But for 4 Visual Media Group, that’s the selling point. And it gets worse:

In addition to providing “captive audience” advertising, 4VMG offers the option to its advertisers of a unique interactive campaign allowing for each advertisement to possess a “dynamic” component. Promotional codes displayed on the table or panel allow for promotions such as a coupon to be sent to the viewer’s cell phone directly and immediately.

It’s hard to imagine anything more inappropriate than providing advertisers with a platform to send text messages to children while they’re in school. And remember, this is from 4 Visual Media Group’s elementary school media kit.

Or it was. After I shared 4VMG’s plans with Jim Metrock at Obligation, Inc., he posted about the company’s plans on his website and wrote to their President. Shortly after, http://4visualmedia.com/ went dark and, when it relaunched, there was nary a word about text messaging, captive audiences or even advertising in schools at all. That’s why the first rule of
anti-school commercialism advocacy is document everything you see before going public with your concerns.

Which brings me to School Media’s, the company that specializes in advertising across students’ lockers. Until a few days ago, their website included this lovely picture:

Now if you’re trying to allay concerns about marketing in schools, what better way than to suggest one of your major advertisers is a company that most parents hold in high regard, like PBS Kids. There’s just one problem: The picture is a fake, as we found out thanks to the magic of Twitter:

A company that wants to send text message advertisements to elementary school students and a company that pretends to have a client that they don't in order to give their predatory marketing a veneer of respectability. These are the kinds of companies that schools will have to deal with if they decide to let advertisers in. Which is just one more reason (I’ll write more soon about the others) why schools should be commercial-free.

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Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

S.F. Proposal: Healthier Kids Meals or No Toys – San Francisco follows Santa Clara County and proposes ban on junk food toys. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2010/08/11/MNJG1ES4M2.DTL

Girls at Comic-Con Find Marketers Ready for Them – Toy makers used this year’s Comic-Con to show off their new brands targeted at girls, including Hasbro’s Strawberry Shortcake (who will have a show on Hasbro’s new children’s TV network, the HUB, launching this fall) and Mattel’s Monster High, a brand based on sexualized characters around which the company is planning an “entertainment juggernaut.”  Mattel’s Monster High dolls, clothing line, and electronics are already available, webisodes are online, a book series is publishing September 1, and a movie musical is being developed by Universal.  This Friday (the 13th) Mattel will launch a Monster High music video on YouTube to promote the brand. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/11/business/media/11adco.html?_r=2&ref=media

Traditional Outdoor Games are Forgotten by Kids – Study shows that traditional outdoor kids’ games are unknown to many children; 75% of children 4-11 reported never playing hopscotch or tag.  Nintendo video games have replaced these games, according to the study, signaling that “high-tech gadgets are over-taking more traditional children's pastimes.” http://newslite.tv/2010/08/10/traditional-outdoor-games-are.html

In the Driver's Seat of 'Cars' Online Community – Disney unveils its latest online community, based on Cars in an advanced massive marketing effort for the 2011 release of Cars 2. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ct-facetime-20100812,0,4740314.story

National Geographic Kids Launches Animal Jam Virtual World
– Kids playing in this “ad-free” virtual world, http://www.animaljam.com/, will earn “bonus Gems and premiums from National Geographic Publishing and discounts on National Geographic’s acclaimed books and magazines.”

Nickelodeon Launches Dora The Explorer's Landmark Tenth Anniversary With 'Beyond the Backpack' Pro-social Campaign to Champion School Readiness – Dora turns 10; Nickelodeon launches a “pro-social” campaign--including the auctioning of limited-edition Dora backpacks and offering Nick-sponsored educational materials--in partnership with The Children's Defense Fund and National Parents Teachers Association (PTA). http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nickelodeon-launches-dora-the-explorers-landmark-tenth-anniversary-with-beyond-the-backpack-pro-social-campaign-to-champion-school-readiness-86001942.html

Youth Exposure To Alcohol Ads Declines – Self-regulation by the alcohol industry has resulted in 62% decline in children’s exposure to liquor ads in magazines, but a 57% increase in exposure to beer ads.  The study shows that 16 brands, including Patron Silver Tequila, Absolut Vodka, Kahlua Liqueur, have higher visibility among child audiences than others.  The article concludes that this finding suggests “ad placements are part of a deliberate strategy” to market alcohol to those under 21. http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=133615

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

Senate Passes Child Nutrition Act – The Senate unanimously passes the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which aims to improve school nutrition programs, and which--if the regulation passes and the USDA enforces the rule--will ban junk food sales both in school cafeteria lines and vending machines. http://prescriptions.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/05/senate-passes-child-nutrition-act/

Twin Cities: This Education Brought to You By ..?  Public school districts in Minnesota turning to an advertiser-sponsored model.  CCFC’s Josh Golin and Parents for Ethical Marketing’s Lisa Ray explain why forcing children to look at corporate ads in school is not an acceptable solution to school budget problems. http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_15699573?

Reps Seek Info From Comcast, MSNBC, Others On Web Tracking, Targeting – U.S. Representatives, disturbed by findings of a report on online advertisers’ tracking activities, demand that several companies disclose information about their collection and use of website users’ data. http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/455697-Reps_Seek_Info_From_Comcast_MSNBC_Others_On_Web_Tracking_Targeting.php

Alarming Global Survey on Children's Perceptions of Nature: The Results – New worldwide study of children’s perceptions of the environment shows that “10X more kids ranked watching TV or playing computer games first compared to those who chose saving the environment.” 41% of American children report that saving the environment is least important to them, compared to the global average of 32% who ranked it last. http://www.airbus.com/en/worldwide/americas/newsroom/news-items/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=3811&tx_ttnews[backPid]=796&cHash=45652a0849

Back-to-School Shopping: It's All on Your Phone – Scannable phone coupons from Target and outfit creation apps from JCPenney are just a few of the ways in which marketers are targeting teens and “tweens” on their phones with back-to-school ad campaigns.  Sears and Kmart offer apps for kids to upload and tweet their purchases, complete with GPS and zip code locators so friends can search inventory at their local store.  American Eagle gives out free phones, with a 2-year contract as an expensive catch.  One executive comments, "From a marketing standpoint, you need to be where they're at and teens spend more time on their mobile phones than on the Internet and than watching TV or reading.” http://www.marketwatch.com/story/back-to-school-shopping-its-all-on-your-phone-2010-08-02?siteid=rss&rss=1

All Interactive Youth Marketing Will Soon Be Location-Based – This marketing trade publication lists reasons why all marketing targeted at young people will be location-based, including: Privacy is not as important to teens as media portrays it; Nielsen predicts half of all Americans will own a smart phone by 2011; young people will use location-based serviced to hook up; mobile costs are getting cheaper.  The author writes that “Geo-targeting will continue to birth a new wave of technologies, experts, and devices built to deliver relevant information based on where you are, not just who you are,” and concludes that youth-targeted advertising will be at the forefront of this new, more invasive marketing frontier. http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=133297

Discovery and Hasbro's Hub Kids' Channel Gears Up for Launch – New joint venture between Discovery and toy maker Hasbro hopes aims for the younger (6-12) child audience, hoping to “woo kids and advertisers trying to reach them.”  Discovery and Hasbro will spend $20 million to hype the channel leading up to its 10/10/10 launch.  The Hub lineup will include Transformers Prime, Clue, and other Hasbro-toy focused advertainment.  Hub CEO Margaret Loesch says the channel is being “so careful” about content and advertising (only 25% of the shows will be based on Hasbro products, and advertising on programming will fall below the federally mandated limits) in hopes of avoiding any “brouhaha” from concerned advocacy groups. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2010/08/discovery-and-hasbros-hub-kids-channel-gears-up-to-battle-nickelodeon-disney-and-cartoon.html

TCA: Hub Chief Optimistic, Cautious About Launching Children's Network – This is another article about the launch of new Discover/Hasbro kids’ television network, The Hub, in which its CEO makes clear that the network intends to market to a captive audience of children in schools in order to attract an audience to sell advertisers. The CEO also claims, “We have no product placement on our shows. Zero.” A leading toy marketer creates a TV network and entire shows built around toys it aims to sell children, but this isn’t product placement? Hmm... http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/455789-TCA_Hub_Chief_Optimistic_Cautious_About_Launching_Children_s_Network.php

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Beyond Barbie: Mattel's Monster of an Assault on Girls

A new study ads heft to the argument that girls are entering puberty earlier than ever before. No one knows why more girls than ever are developing breasts at seven or eight—some scientists attribute it to childhood obesity, others cite environmental factors. Whatever the reason, there’s cause for concern. How do girls so young deal with feelings heightened by hormonal surges, changes in their bodies, and how people think about them in their bodies?

What these seven year olds need is support from their families and communities to help them understand and cope with the unsettling changes occurring in their bodies. What they don’t need are anorexic junior dominatrix dolls for girls as young as six. Oops, I mean the Monster High brand (“Freaky Just Got Fabulous”), Mattel’s latest multi-platform assault on children.

Come to think of it, what girl does need these dolls? Or the Monster High clothing, toys, accessories, video games, movies, TV specials, virtual worlds, and books for “young readers.”

All girls are vulnerable to harm from sexualized images, but girls in the throes of early sexual maturity are especially vulnerable. Companies like Mattel that market sexualized this and that to girls often justify their campaigns and products by pointing to early physical maturation as one more sign that “Kids are getting older younger.” But, as I’ve said before, “Breast buds do not a woman make.” Girls’ bodies may be maturing, but there’s no evidence that their judgment is keeping pace.

The market strategy of sexualizing little girls has become so usual these days—from Hannah Montana, to the Bratz (which are coming back), My Scene Barbies, Twilight Kids Meals, and endless other products, it’s easy to feel jaded about Monster High. But that’s a mistake. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mattel is aiming for nothing less than an “entertainment juggernaut.”

By foisting fashionistas on little girls and providing them with the trappings of maturity—sexualized toys, clothing, and media—we deprive them of middle childhood. That’s the glorious time between preschool and adolescence that’s should be a time of great creative flowering for girls—because they’ve mastered basic skills and aren’t hampered by the self-consciousness of teenagers.

But we’re making it harder and harder for girls to have a middle childhood. We should be doing everything we can to identify and rectify whatever is launching seven-year-old girls into puberty. We also need to talk with them honestly and carefully about their bodily changes and what they mean. But sex education is different than the sex sold in commercial culture. Given the hormonal upheaval many girls are going through at ever younger ages, shouldn’t we be even more careful than ever about protecting them from sexualization?

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Et Tu, Bronx Zoo?

When I was growing up, the Bronx Zoo was just about my favorite place in the world. So it was painful to get this email from a CCFC supporter:
In case you haven't heard about this:

The Bronx Zoo now has a Dora exhibit. I am devastated. It was, until this, one of the last commercial-free places I could take my kids. Now, all they want to do is see Dora. So sad.
The exhibit? A video, of course. Sorry, I mean a multi-sensory experience:

Dora, Diego and Boots need your help to protect the animals of the rainforest from Swiper’s out-of-control Robot Butterfly! ¡Vámonos! The Robot Butterfly is swiping the water and plants that the animals need. Join your adventurous amigos on Nickelodeon’s high-speed, eye-popping chase from the tropical rainforest to the icy Arctic. Let’s catch that Robot Butterfly and protect the rainforest!
Dora and Diego’s 4-D Adventure combines a high-definition 3-D film with effects such as wind, mist, scents and dramatic lighting to take you on an immersive multi-sensory journey.

There’s so much wrong here. There is, as the emailer points out, the intrusion of Nickelodeon’s media empire into what was once wonderful, commercial-free space. There’s the fact that Dora seems to be taking over virtually every cultural institution for young kids; New York preschoolers can also catch the ubiquitous Explorer and her sidekick Diego at the Children’s Museum. There’s the disconcerting image of preschool children, who already average 32 hours a week with screen media, spending their zoo time watching movies instead of engaging with exhibits that feature living creatures. And there’s the disconnect between using Dora, Nick’s reigning queen of branded merchandising, to promote environmental stewardship.

But what gets me the most about the Bronx Zoo’s Dora exhibit is that it is so unnecessary. If the goal of the exhibit is to teach children about conservation, I’m guessing five minutes with an adorable endangered species will have more of a lasting impact than Nickelodeon’s cartoon preaching. And if the goal is to get kids excited about going to the zoo, isn’t the zoo exciting enough?

Kids love animals. And they love zoos. They especially love awesome zoos like the Bronx Zoo. They don’t need Dora as an enticement to get them in the door. They don’t need screen time to keep them entertained when there are real lions and tigers and bears roaming around. They don’t need to watch an animated monkey named Boots when they can see the real thing at the Monkey House. And if it’s a multi-dimensional, multisensory experience kids are after, the last time I checked that’s what zoos – and the world – already have to offer.

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Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

McDonald’s Violent ‘Happy Meal’ Toy Promotion the Latest Target of Parents, Health Advocates – This piece covers advocacy groups’ actions challenging McDonald’s for its Happy Meal toy marketing, including CCFC’s recent campaign around the company’s violent toy promotions. The author ties these actions to the broader question of whether it’s time for Congress restore the FTC’s authority to regulate advertising aimed at children. http://www.fleshandstone.net/healthandsciencenews/2100.html

How Disney Magic and the Corporate Media Shape Youth Identity in the Digital Age – An in-depth article by Henry Giroux and Grace Pollock, this piece looks at the Disney marketing mega-machine and details the sophisticated ways in which “Disney is actually engaged in the commercial carpet bombing of children and teens.”  The authors conclude that the commodification of childhood is both damaging for children, and a grave danger to democratic society. http://www.truth-out.org/how-disney-magic-and-corporate-media-shape-youth-identity-digital-age62008

Addictive Internet Use Tied to Depression in Teens – A new Australian study shows that teens who are addicted to the internet are more than twice as likely to develop depression than those who are not.  The researchers conclude that the internet is isolating and alienating, disrupting time teens spend with friends and other activities beneficial to their mental health. http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/641735.html

Behind Disney's Digital Shopping SpreeBloomberg Businessweek explains that Disney’s recent purchase of Playdom and other social gaming media platforms is a move to further integrate its brand and characters into the fabric of people’s everyday digital lives.  An example of how Disney plans to leverage the gaming site for the promotion of its release of Cars 2 next year is a preview of marketing schemes to come.  http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_32/b4190035402934.htm

ScuttlePad: A Social Network Just For Kids – The founder and CEO of this new social networking website for children calls the site a training ground, explaining, “"We teach kids how to walk across the street, but we're not teaching them how to be effective social media players."  A major part of the lesson seems to be that kids should be online social networking earlier, instead of playing, being outdoors, spending time with family, or doing other developmentally beneficial activities. http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/scuttlepad_a_social_network_just_for_kids.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+readwriteweb+%28ReadWriteWeb%29

Teen 'Haulers' Become a Fashion Force – The L.A. Times covers retail chains’ use of ‘hauls,’ or videos of teens showing off their new purchases, as a major back-to-school marketing tool.  The article points to the teen girls’ “bubbly charm, attractive looks and somewhat ditzy personalities” as the heart of haul videos, and a JCPenny executive adds that they’re better at driving sales than traditional ads because “they’re more organic.” http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-teen-haulers-20100801,0,3376763.story
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

Taking a Bite out of Fast Food – Officials and health experts in Thailand turn to CCFC Steering Committee member Michele Simon’s book Appetite for Profit for guidance in confronting the country’s rising levels of childhood obesity. http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/188756/taking-a-bite-out-of-fast-food; Michele Simon blogs about it here: http://appetiteforprofit.blogspot.com/2010/08/bangkok-post-covers-release-of-appetite.html

It’s Great to be Ken Toy Story 3 is helping to rehabilitate the popularity (and sales potential) of the Ken doll, which Mattel plans to capitalize on further with a marketing blitz next year as the doll turns 50. http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/fashion/articles/2010/07/29/its_great_to_be_ken/

Online Ad Industry Assesses Latest Call for 'Do Not Track' List – As behavioral marketing becomes standard practice, the ad industry says a federally mandated ‘do not track’ registry akin to the ‘do not call’ registry would have a “devastating effect” for online marketers, who depend on surreptitiously tracking people’s online activities for advertising purposes.  (Editorial note: the noise the industry is making about the proposed ‘do not track’ registry is clearly intended to ward of any actual regulation of behavioral marketing practices.)  http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=145161

10 Cool Tech Toys for Kids – More like “10 Toys That Take Away from Children’s Creative Play”: http://mashable.com/2010/08/01/10-cool-tech-toys-for-kids-pics/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29

Geolocation Grows Despite Privacy Concerns – 2 in 5 mobile owners use location-based services like Foursquare, which marketers use to draw consumers into stores, despite rising privacy concerns that loom around such practices. http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?R=1007840

Is Your Detergent Stalking You? – Brazil: Unilever implants a GPS tracking devise into its Omo detergent (which accounts for 50% of Brazil’s detergent sales) as part of its new “win-a-Unilever-sponsored-day-playing-outside” ad campaign, allowing its promotions agency to track and follow shoppers home.  "We believe in using new technology for promotional marketing," said an executive. http://adage.com/globalnews/article?article_id=145183
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Commercialism Corner

Commercialism Corner: Your one-stop shop for quick summaries and links to all the latest news about the commercialization of childhood.

Junk Food Advertising Needs Watershed Ban – After a ban on junk food advertising during children’s programming in the UK has failed to significantly decrease children’s exposure to such ads, health groups call on regulators to implement a ban on all junk food advertising before 9pm.  Child health advocates say this is necessary in order to combat the increasingly clever ways in which marketers target children. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7910946/Junk-food-advertising-needs-watershed-ban.html

U Going 2 the Bratz Party? IDK If They're So Popular
– MGA Entertainment, after an ongoing court battle with Mattel, regains rights to the scantily clad line of Bratz dolls.  With the win, MGA hopes to resurrect the sexualized dolls among so-called “tween” girls, with “a new twist on the core fashion play that made Bratz a hit.”  Major retail chains will begin carrying 13 new Bratz products in the next few weeks and 10 new Bratz characters in the fall. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704700404575391620974490234.html?mod=WSJ_hps_LEFTWhatsNews

Sweetwater Opens Campuses to Corporate Ads – South County, California school districts are opening up their schools to ads from McDonald’s, Nike and other corporations.  CCFC’s Josh Golin tells the San Diego Union-Tribune why selling a captive student audience to advertisers is not a good solution for tight school budgets.  (Note: Article inaccurately states that CCFC is part of Judge Baker Children’s Center.)  http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/aug/01/you-deserve-a-break-today-at-school/

Disney Buys Playdom in $763 Million Deal, Becoming Hollywood Leader in Social Games – Disney buys Playdom, one of the largest social gaming platforms, to profit from the sale of virtual goods and extend its brand even further, setting its eyes on “casual gamers” and players of all ages.  New York Times registration required. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/technology/28disney.html?_r=3

Ratings Watch: Disney Channel Sees Most-Watched July Ever – The Disney Channel, the number one network watched by children ages 6 to 14, had its most-watched month ever this July with 2.1 million viewers.  This is Disney’s second most-watched month on record—great news for Disney, depressing news for advocates of screen-free playtime. http://www.kidscreen.com/articles/news/20100728/disneyratings.htm

Burger King to Launch Kids' Breakfast Meal – While McDonald’s is catching all the heat for its use of toys to market unhealthy food to children, Burger King slips in and begins selling children’s breakfast kids meals…which come with a toy, of course. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/22/business/la-fi-burger-king-20100722
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