Thursday, September 23, 2010

Commercialism Corner

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

FCC Probes Complaint That Cartoon Advertises Skechers Shoes - After only a week, the FCC opens an investigation into CCFC's petition that the upcoming Nicktoons show "Zevo-3" is one long Skechers ad.

Schools Seek Extra Cash Through Campus Ads – This Associated Press article addresses how school districts around the country are attempting to close budget gaps by entertaining or enacting the sale of advertising space in schools. CCFC’s Josh Golin and Parents for Ethical Marketing’s Lisa Ray explain why selling students out to corporate marketers is a bad solution.

On the Web, Children Face Intensive Tracking - A Wall Street Journal investigation into online privacy has found that popular children's websites install more tracking technologies on personal computers than do the top websites aimed at adults. Nickelodeon sites make up a chunk of the 50 most popular children’s sites and were found to install a disturbing number of tracking cookies on users’ computers. The author writes, “Parents hoping to let their kids use the Internet, while protecting them from snooping, are in a bind.”

Understanding the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
– This WSJ blog summarizes COPPA and reviews calls to revamp the Act to define behavioral tracking as online data and to extend the law to protect teenagers.

Study to Reveal How Consumers Feel about In-store Media – Automated Media Services, the company behind 3GTv—a network of mini-televisions airing ads that it hopes to install on grocery shelves all over the country—will be conducting in-store customer research coinciding with its pilot launch in Food Lion’s Bloom supermarkets in the DC area this fall. Over 1300 CCFC members who do not want to run a gauntlet of screens with their families while food shopping have already told Food Lion to pull the plug on 3GTv.

US Department of Energy and The Advertising Council Launch Disney-created Energy Conservation PSAs – Public service announcements (PSA’s) created by Disney and starring the licensed character Tinker Bell are supposed to encourage kids’ energy conservation. Not so coincidentally, the announcements/advertisements coincide with the release of Disney’s Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue movie on DVD and Blu-ray.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Commercialism Corner

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

N.J. Assembly Committee Displaying Ads on School Buses - New Jersey is the latest state attempting to close school budget gaps by selling a captive student audience to advertisers. CCFC's Josh Golin weighs in.

Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom – This New York Times (registration required) article looks at an educational program called Quest to Learn in New York City, which aims to turn the classroom into a video game experience. Is turning the classroom into a video game really the best way to help children learn and grow, especially when kids spend nearly every waking hour outside of school engaged with screens?

Seventeen Fuels Fashion's Night Out Takeoff Seventeen magazine throws a marketing event in New York City for the “adolescent set.”  The fashion night hopes to “encourage girls to part with their money while they’re there” with retailers distributing coupons and other marketing materials.  Event comes complete with “mocktails” for girls.

Children's Brain Development Is Linked to Physical Fitness, Research Finds - Researchers have found an association between physical fitness and the brain in 9- and 10-year-old children: Those who are fitter tend to have a bigger hippocampus and perform better on a test of memory than their less-fit peers. While this article doesn’t make the connection, the links between children’s screen time and lack of physical fitness have been made in other research.

Disney, Nielsen Team on iPad App
– New Disney, Nielsen, iPad teaming will enable people to watch a TV show while simultaneously browsing the web and participating in social media marketing.  The new app will enable even more screen multi-tasking (which has been shown to have negative affects) and more ads crammed into digital spaces.

MU Criticises an Increase in Sexualisation of Children – A new report finds that UK children are exposed to too much sex and violence on TV.  The UK Prime Minister agrees that the growth of advertising and marketing to kids “is not good for families and not good for society.”

'Places' Can Harness Mainstream For Location-Based Services - Facebook’s new “Places” application, which lets users check-in to a location and then tag friends as being there (even if they don’t own a smart phone or use Places) is a marketer’s dream.  Learn why marketers hoping to cash in by exploiting teens are salivating over the profit potential of this location-based app.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Tale of Two School Districts

Yesterday was a good day. Today brings this disappointing news from District 15 in Minnesota:

As St. Francis District 15 students put their jackets into their lockers this fall, they could be greeted by pink jelly fish or luscious apples.

It’s all part of the plan to bring more revenue into the schools.

The school board Sept. 13 voted 6-1 to allow some of the lockers at six of the district’s eight school buildings to become advertising billboards for OMCM Marketing Solutions.

A few thoughts:

1. One thing people often don’t realize about in-school advertising: schools usually don’t contract directly with advertisers; they use third-party placement agencies like OMCM. Not surprisingly, agencies that hope to profit by exploiting schools’ financial difficulties aren’t always the most scrupulous. For example, until CCFC caught them, OMCM falsely implied that reputable PBS Kids was a client. Agencies like OMCM also take a significant cut of any ad revenue generated which is one reason why…

2. Advertising is rarely the cash cow schools expect. District 15 hopes to earn $100,000 - $240,000 this year by turning its lockers into billboards. I don’t for a second mean to downplay the couple of jobs that this money could save or the supplies it might buy. But with 6,000 students, that’s only $16-40/student. Consider how many times a day students visit their lockers and how many impressions the advertisers will get to make over the course of a year. And how powerful those ads will be because a) the kids have to see them several times a day and b) the advertised products will come with the school’s implicit endorsement. Sounds like a great deal for the advertisers. I’m guessing it’s a good one for OMCM. I know it’s a lousy deal for the students.

3. OMCM Greg Meyer claims children’s lockers will be used for “nutritional and educational ads, like ads from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety urging students not to text and drive.” But I’m guessing the Minnesota Department of Public Safety doesn’t have $100,000 to throw at a campaign for 6,000 students, the overwhelming majority of whom are nowhere near driving age. You know who does? General Mills, Nintendo, MTV Networks, etc . . . So what happens come January when the ad revenue hasn’t met your projections? Does the junk food or video game that you told parents would be off limits start looking more attractive?

When you start down the slippery slope of selling your students to advertisers, it’s really hard to put on the brakes. That’s just one reason why the San Diego approach is so much more preferable.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sell Our Kids To Advertisers? No Thanks, Says San Diego

Huzzah to the San Diego Board of Education!
San Diego school board members were once intrigued by the thought of allowing ads on campus to help soften the blow of budget cuts, but they turned uncomfortable once they learned more.

The board voted 4-1 Tuesday to reject a plan to allow ads in hallways, cafeterias, libraries and other places on school campuses. Nine months ago, the same board directed staff to research the idea.
It is hard to overstate what a courageous decision this is. San Diego schools, like so many in these difficult times, desperately need money; officials estimate the district is facing a deficit of between $141 million and $160 million next year. But rather than succumb to slick sales pitches from companies eager to exploit their financial situation, the San Diego board carefully studied the issue.

They realized that the money they’d raise by allowing advertising on their hallways and in their cafeterias would be a drop in the bucket (about $10,000 per school) compared to what they need. More importantly, they were honest that there was a real cost associated with selling their kids to advertisers.

"We need to teach them critical thinking, not jam thoughts down their heads," said school board member John de Beck, who voted against the plan. "I don't want to be a part of using kids to sell stuff."

Neither do CCFC members. Yesterday afternoon, I learned from a reporter that a board vote was scheduled for that evening. We quickly emailed our supporters in the San Diego area and urged them to contact their board members and attend the meeting. Despite the short notice, they did. Here’s CCFC member Elena McCollim, the mother of a kindergartener in San Diego Unified schools, at the meeting last night:
Public schools, like public parks, are part of the shrinking commercial-free space in public life. I sympathize with the need for money for schools. But I question what message we're sending to our children.
And here’s what CCFC member Elaine Boyd wrote to the board:
Dear Board of Education:

I know that public schools are under terrible financial stress, but please don’t sell our kids to advertisers.

What do ads “teach” kids? They generally teach them to want things they don’t need. Turning children into hungry consumers is nearly inescapable as it is – squeezing ad messages in through the cracks of the schoolyard leaves virtually no commercial-free place to hide.

Corporations are already setting the agenda for the childhood experience in powerful ways through toys, food, and popular media. (There is a growing body of academic work dedicated to the subject.) The halls of education should be the place where the message to “consume – consume – consume” should be countered, not promoted.

I have a 4 year old daughter who will enter kindergarten in one year. Some of my friends are stunned that she doesn’t pester me to buy things for her. It’s because she has never seen TV or print ads and hasn’t been taught to want things that (a) are bad for her health, or (b) will wind up in a landfill within months.

I love that my child is unreachable by corporations who seek to create false needs in her mind, thus saddling her with a needless sense of dissatisfaction if she doesn’t get the desired object. Offering her up to single-minded corporate advertisers would certainly change that.

Finally, I have heard that in-school advertising almost never generates the revenue that administrators expect. Please reject ads in schools.
What a perfect letter. And what a great decision by the Board. Even in this economy, we can -- and must -- preserve commercial-free spaces for kids.
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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.

FCC asked to block Skechers' new cartoon series - The AP covers CCFC's petition urging the FCC to rule that a new Skechers-produced children’s show is not in the public interest. CCFC’s petition finds that the show Zevo-3, scheduled to debut on Nicktoons on October 11, is a program-length advertisement and violates ad limits set by Congress in the Children’s Television Act. AP story: Press release and petition:

San Diego school board rejects campus advertising - After hearing from CCFC members, San Diego Board of Education puts students first and shoots down a proposal for in-school ads. CCFC members who received our action alert went to the school committee meeting and emailed board members, speaking up to make San Diego remain commercial-free.

Outgunned FDA tries to get tough with drug ads - As the FDA struggles to monitor a flood of pharmaceutical advertising, CCFC's Susan Linn highlights the deceptive tactics companies use sell children on drugs in this special report.

Less Play Today Means Fewer Leaders For Tomorrow – Gooddard Systems, a childcare franchise, sponsors Play for Tomorrow's Ultimate Block Party: The Arts and Sciences of Play, a national event celebrating the importance of children’s creative play on learning with a major play event in New York City and mini play-focused block parties across the country.

UMass professors tap media literacy to fight childhood obesity
– Professors at UMass find the marketing of junk food to young people is a leading cause of childhood obesity and launch intervention to help curb effects.

Kmart’s Teen Site Is, Like, Totally Bogus – Kmart’s new teen social networking site, Stylesip, is a thinly and badly veiled marketing ploy. The author writes that parents who realize “what Kmart is up to with Stylesip may be turned off.”

As Chinese Youth Head Online, Marketers Follow With Content
– Multinational marketers flock to produce branded online entertainment in order to target young people in the world’s most populated country. Branded dramas funded by Unilever, Burger King, General Motors Corp., Kraft Foods, and Anheuser-Busch proliferating all over China.

Smith & Tinker, Marvel team up for social and mobile games – Marvel is “chasing consumers on the new platforms audiences are gravitating to for their digital entertainment” with the creation of new apps featuring popular children’s characters Iron Man, the X-Men, Hulk and others.
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This Science Lesson is Brought to You By...

An article in the Sacramento Bee last week raised concerns about the role of British Petroleum scientists in shaping a statewide k-12 science curriculum. BP representatives were among many experts called in to shape what and how science would be taught to California students. Having caused the worst human-made ecological disaster ever, BP certainly deserves to be the current poster child for corporate greed and corruption. But the company’s participation on a large committee shaping science curriculum is only a tiny piece of the giant problem of corporate influences on what children learn in school. For one thing, other industry representatives with a clear financial stake in how and what children learn about fossil fuels and non-renewable energy were also represented, along with environmental groups, educators and academics.

Significantly more troubling than BP’s role in shaping the curriculum are what’s called Sponsored Educational Materials (SEMS), created solely by corporations or corporate trade organizations and distributed for free in schools around the world. These teaching materials bypass review by any board of education and are marketed directly to teachers as alternatives to aging, out of date, and/or expensive textbooks.

SEMS are not exactly new. I have vague memories of watching industrial films in elementary school made by G.E. and other companies. But, like all commercialism, the presence of these materials in schools has escalated—and will escalate even more as we continue to abdicate financial responsibility for public education. In Britain, BP creates science and math materials for kids as young as five.

In the U.S., Exxon is notorious for the ecology curriculum it developed after the Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Currently, the American Petroleum Institute (API) hands out teaching materials that are heavy on extolling the virtues of fossil fuels and light on environmental concerns:

API materials also feature a video game about offshore drilling designed for students in grades 6 to 12. Not surprisingly, the action doesn’t include explosions, fires, or devastating, unstoppable leaks:

The American Plastics Council, a division of the American Chemistry Council, which—like BP—helped shape the California curriculum, has its own downloadable teaching materials. Hands on Plastics, Jr., for kindergarten and early elementary school classes, includes a work sheet featuring the Polymer Family’s House:

Of course, the worksheet doesn’t question whether the Polymer family needs all of the plastic stuff in their house. Or how it was made. Or where it’s going to end up.

The American Plastic Council also offers a polymer ditty to be sung in the classroom to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell, which includes verses like this:
What’s markedly absent is a verse addressing any environmental concern about plastic polymers. Perhaps something like this:I’m not unaware of the ways that we benefit from oil and plastic. Full disclosure: I drive a car, have a toothbrush, and my husband is an art conservator who uses plastic polymers in his (excellent) restorations. And I certainly believe that children should learn about material sciences in school. But they shouldn’t be taught content provided by entities with a financial interest in what they do or do not learn.

The American Petroleum Institute, with 400 corporate members, describes itself as “the only national trade association that represents all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry.” The goal of its teaching materials is to “Provide teachers and students with engaging and informative resources on energy and related concepts, including the vital role of oil and natural gas in modern life.”

According to the American Plastic Council’s website, its mission is to “advocate unlimited opportunities for plastics and promote their economic, environmental and societal benefits.” To accomplish that mission, the Council demonstrates “the benefits of plastic products and the contributions of the plastics industry to the society it serves.”

The purpose of these organizations is to protect and promote the industries and the corporate interests they serve, not to educate the public with balanced and objective information. Given the state of the environment, we don’t need to extol the benefits of fossil fuels and plastics to children—we should help them weigh the environmental costs against the benefits of our dependence of them, and learn to think carefully about what they need and don’t need.

Oil and plastics aren’t the only industries that distribute SEMS. So does the coal industry, the food industry, the entertainment industry, and even the drug industry. One primary purpose of education should be to promote critical thinking in children. By definition, corporations—legally bound to make profits for their stockholders—can’t jeopardize sales by promoting critical thinking about their products. For that reason, alone, they cannot create effective, ethical educational materials.
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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why is McDonald's listed a resource for Childhood Obesity Awareness Month?

I am not a fan of any sort of  "awareness" month as I find the concept trivializes important health issues. Are we only supposed to care about heart disease, diabetes, etc, during that one month of the year? And I never see anything of substance come from the month-long activities, just the usual ineffective educational campaigns, instead of meaningful public policy reforms. Plus many issues tend to crowd themselves into certain months of the year, so it all just becomes noise.  September is one such month. Among other causes, September has been proclaimed "Childhood Obesity Awareness Month" by Congress and President Obama.
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Are you Kidding Me, Kmart? More on Alloy's First Day

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concerns regarding First Day, the new online Kmart infomercial webisode for tweens and teens from Alloy Media and Marketing. Well, the first episode is up and it’s even worse than I predicted. (The second episode is up too, but there’s a limit to my masochism).

The takeaway? Pick your outfits carefully for the first day of school because:
First day of school determines who you’re gonna be friends with, which determines if a guy is gonna like you which determines if you’ll ever be kissed, because after awhile you build it up and you get all nervous, until you’re 25 and totally unkissable.
Pretty subtle message for a program developed by Kmart to promote its back-to-school clothes.

The show is only 9-minutes and takes place over the course of a single day, but there are still plenty of outfit changes. In fact, the plot consists of little more than a series of mishaps that force the main character to change her clothes after they’ve been soiled. As new outfits are introduced, they flash on a sidebar next to the episode, complete with links to Kmart where young viewers can purchase the items right away.

The entire premise is inherently deceptive. There’s no disclosure that Kmart actually helped write the script, just a credit that says “Styled by Kmart” that flashes on screen before the show starts. If kids knew they were about to tune into a 9-minute commercial, they’d most likely click somewhere else. That’s why Alloy has to pretend that First Day is something more than an ad.

In addition to all the marketing, the show is pretty vile. Amy Jussel of calls First Day “classic online product placement meets mean girl drek.” She breaks down the show a lot more thoroughly than I’m able to (she’s got a sharper eye and a stronger stomach) and I highly recommend her take.

The unholy alliance between Kmart and Alloy is not, however, limited to First Day. Kmart is also promoting its Bongo jeans at Alloy’s website, a site that is regularly advertised in classrooms on Alloy’s Channel One. As with First Day, Kmart and Alloy disguise their Bongo advertising as something else – in this case, a “behind the scenes” of a photo shoot with Bongo model (and star of The Hills) Audrina Patridge. Because the “behind the scenes” is one of several rotating ads on and may not appear when you click on this link, I’m including a transcript and some screen shots below:

Hi this is Audrina Patridge and I’m taking you behind the scenes on my Bongo shoot. We were shooting the Bongo campaign for this fall and it was really fun and exciting.

The concept behind the Bongo shoot today was very flirty, sexy, pin-up style a little bit. Bongo’s a great brand for going back to school because it’s affordable and it’s stylish.

There’s some really cute striped tops that tied in the back that I loved. All the jeans fit really nice and comfortable and you feel like you look like you have a cute butt.

To sum up:

  1. Alloy and Kmart have teamed up for a series of deceptive 9-minute infomercials for teens and tweens to sell back-to-school clothes.
  2. Kmart is using a “very flirty, sexy, pin-up style” to market its junior line so girls can “have a cute butt”.
  3. Channel One is promoting, which features ads like the one described above, to a captive audience of students in nearly 8,000 schools around the country. If you live in a school district with Channel One, your tax-dollars are being used to encourage kids to visit where they'll watch ads that celebrate the "sexy, pin-up style."
So what can we do?

First, find out if your child’s school has Channel One. If they do, show your administrators this blog post and ask them to pull the plug. If they don’t, thank them and show them this blog post in case they are ever tempted to consider it.

And if you’re appalled by Kmart’s decision to sexualize children and commercialize classrooms (remember, they are advertising directly on Channel One, too), let them know. Kmart’s chief marketing officer Mark Snyder can be reached at

More on Alloy and Kmart::

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

Everything you ever wanted to know about Channel One from Obliation, Inc.:

Toxic Teen Messaging In A K-Mart/Alloy Episodic: The First Day by Amy Jussel:

Kmart targets teens online, via Alloy Media Digital Marketing: Time for FTC & Congress to Protect Adolescent Consumers, inc. Privacy by Jeff Chester:

Read more!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Commercialism Corner

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

U.S. Pediatricians Decry Media's Portrayal of Sex – A new study published in Pediatrics shows that the messages media teach teens and children about sex are dangerous.  "’We want physicians to ask two media questions at every well-child visit: how much entertainment screen time per day does the child engage in, and is there a TV set or Internet connection in his or her bedroom,’ said Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. ‘That takes 20 seconds and may be more important than asking about childproofing or car seats or bicycle helmets.’”  The article shows that media are a powerful sex educator, and with children spending more time with media than in any other activity but sleeping, media needs to shape up.  The authors also recommend that advertisers stop using sex to sell products.

Baby Carrots Take on Junk Food with Hip Marketing Campaign – In a $25 million effort to win inclusion in millions of back-to-school lunches, the carrot industry launches an ad campaign to brand the orange, crunchy veggie as cool, taking a page out of junk food advertisers’ handbook with Cheetos-like packaging, phone apps, and “sexy” TV ads.

Parents Sue Facebook Over Ads And 'Like' Data – Parents file a suit against Facebook, claiming their children are being exploited for commercial purposes when they see that a friend has “Liked” an ad on Facebook.  With good reason, the parents ask that Facebook obtain parental consent before using minors’ “Like” data for marketing purposes.

Location-Based Shopping: Can Shopkick Keep Kids in the Mall? – The new application Shopkick (the one that allows marketers to follow customers around stores and into dressing rooms) takes a “decidedly brand friendly approach” and targets teen girls—the marketing platform’s “sweet spot.”

Spearmark Unveils New Rise & Shine Line – New Disney-branded “sleep-time routine trainer” for kids is a 24-hour programmable electronic device (which dubs as a nightlight) that aims “to teach youngsters about bedtime routines by copying the Disney characters.”

Strawberry Shortcake Supports Childhood Cancer Month – In advance of the new Strawberry Shortcake show, which will premiere next month on the new Hasbro/Discovery children’s TV network, The Hub, Strawberry Shortcake is promoting childhood cancer awareness month (and its own brand) by sponsoring Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for cancer research mainly through lemonade sales, by encouraging people to host special Strawberry Shortcake Alex’s Lemonade Stands.
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