Thursday, October 21, 2010

Commercialism Corner

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

Alloy wants to own teenage girls – A detailed account of how Alloy is positioning to completely take over the teen girl market—and manufacture teen culture.

Despite spending billions on advertising, the fast food industry blames parents for skyrocketing obesity rates – This Alternet post give a great argument of the “parents are to blame” argument used by food marketers in response to critiques of their marketing to children practices.,_the_fast_food_industry_blames_parents_for_skyrocketing_obesity_rates

Junk food ads aimed at kids come under fire – Global study of junk food marketing to kids finds that Canadian kids (outside of Quebec) are targeted with more TV junk food ads than even American children.  This finding, along with rising rates of childhood obesity, and starting a national conversation about limiting advertising aimed at children.

Preschool items help boost Hasbro – Hasbro gains and sales grow thanks to preschool toys—many of which are tie-ins for PG-13 movies, as seen in the article image.  Hasbro execs expect the company to do well this holiday season, with chief executive Brian Goldner noting that its children’s network, The Hub, has been well received by consumers.

Baby’s must-see TV does not increase vocabulary
– This article give a quick recap of growing evidence that screens do not make babies smarter.

Teen clothing brands set sights lower
– Teen retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21 and American Eagle begin marketing to younger children.  While some express concern about the appropriateness of marketing styles for teens to younger kids, marketers see the move to “go after them younger and get them hooked into our brands” as a “natural evolution.”

Chamber: Worry about energy regulations, kids
- Chamber of Commerce partners with Scholastic for “energy curriculum” in schools. Advocates raise concerns about the effects and ethics of such sponsored materials.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Commercialism Corner

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

Give advertainment the boot – This Boston Globe editorial supports CCFC’s FCC petition that the Skechers show Zevo-3 airing on Nicktoons is not in the public interest.

Ads may roll out on N.J. school buses - Lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow advertising on the sides of school buses.  If the New Jersey Senate concurs with the state Assembly, school buses in the Garden State may soon resemble rolling billboards. CCFC’s Susan Linn weighs in.

Too much screen time can psychologically harm kids – Children who spend more than two hours a day watching television or playing video games are at greater risk for psychological problems, a new study suggests. Children’s physical activity did not compensate for the negative psychological effects of screen time.

Social networks not protecting children's privacy, poll finds - A nationwide poll shows that parents and teens don't think social networks are adequately protecting children’s online privacy. 75% of parents say they would negatively rate how social networks are doing, according to the survey of more than 2,000 parents and 400 teens by Common Sense Media.

Show and tell: Food firms get kids to do the talking – Australian health advocates raise concern about companies who use children to do work-of-mouth marketing for products ranging from junk food to MP3 players.

A children’s channel retools – This New York Times article on the launch of the Hub, Hasbro/Discovery’s new children’s network, mentions that CCFC will be closely monitoring the station for product placement and commercial messages aimed at children.

New kids' TV channel raises product-placement concerns –The Hub channel raises advocates’ concerns about FCC rules protecting children from overcommercialization. CCFC’s Susan Linn says, "The notion of a toy company owning a television channel for the sole purpose of promoting their toys is egregious practice.”,0,1622131.story
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scholastic and SunnyD’s Shocking School Spree

Last week, Angela S. was shopping with her six-year-old son when he started excitedly lobbying her to buy SunnyD. Angela was surprised – it wasn’t a product she had ever purchased for him. Moreover, “he sounded like a commercial,” yet Angela’s family doesn’t even own a television, so she was pretty sure a TV ad wasn’t the source of his newfound enthusiasm for SunnyD. And then, as her son excitedly told her that if she bought SunnyD his class would get free books, it dawned on her why he was lobbying her: his teacher had told him to.

Her suspicions were confirmed when she got home and looked at the latest handouts that her son had brought home from school and saw a letter from his teacher promoting the “SunnyD Book Spree.” The letter, prewritten by SunnyD and festooned with the company’s logos, began:

Dear parents and guardians,

I’m very excited to tell you about a program our class is participating in that will bring free books to your child’s classroom. It’s called the SunnyD Book Spree, and the program will donate 20 books when our class sends in 20 SunnyD UPC labels. The program will also award hundreds of books to the ten schools that collect the most labels. Please help us get our free books!

How do you get teachers to shill for SunnyD? One way is by partnering with Scholastic, which isn’t shy about using its unique access to educators to promote products and brands in classrooms. Scholastic’s reputation as an educational company lends its clients’ in-school marketing activities a veneer of respectability, even – as in this case – when the product being marketed isn’t good for kids.

When I shared Angela’s concerns about the program with Scholastic’s Vice President of Corporate Communications, she emailed me, “The Sunny D program is a promotion in Parent & Child Magazine that is strictly for parents and teachers… not children.” But the SunnyD Book Spree website tells a different story. The “Tips for Teachers” include the following:

  • Have a class party to "raise labels" for books—ask parents to send kids in with SunnyD.
  • Keep fun cut-outs or colorful charts in the classroom, showing how many labels have been collected.

Sounds like SunnyD hopes and expects that kids will be actively involved in their classroom promotion. And that Angela’s experience with her son wasn’t an anomaly – it’s how the program was conceived.

So in exchange for twenty books, schools are being asked to:

  1. Exploit a captive audience of students by making exposure to SunnyD ads compulsory.
  2. Commercialize their classrooms by decorating their rooms with SunnyD ads and holding SunnyD events.
  3. Encourage consumption of a product of really poor nutritional quality. When I asked my nutritionist friends about Sunny D, the phrase I heard most often was “sugar water.” An 8-oz serving of Sunny D has 27 grams of sugar; the same size serving of Coca-Cola has 26.
  4. Encourage students to nag their parents for SunnyD, a product that a lot of parents would probably prefer not to buy for their kids.
  5. Teach their young students that supporting your school means drinking – and proselytizing to others about – SunnyD. Think about how confusing it must have been for Angela’s son. He was doing what his teacher had asked. He was trying to help his school get books. And his mother was saying no because she doesn’t want him drinking beverages loaded with high-fructose corn syrup?! (Remember, he’s six years old.) Now think about another six year old, who because her parents are not keen on her drinking “sugar water,” is excluded from her class’s SunnyD party.

I hear so often, in these dark economic times, how schools need to “think outside the box” and “partner” with corporations. But marketing in schools isn’t a partnership. It’s exploitation. There’s a lot that kids should learn in school, but how to become a brand ambassador for a lousy beverage isn’t one of them.

Shame on SunnyD and Scholastic.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Snub The Hub: Why children would be better off if parents turned off Hasbro’s new television station

What if they launched a television station and nobody watched? The new Hasbro/Discovery partnership The Hub, which premieres this Sunday, might be a good deal for the 2nd largest toymaker in the world, but if it succeeds it’s a bad deal for parents and kids—both for what it is and what it portends. As the first television station owned by a toy company, it’s another slide downward in the increasingly greedy and lucrative world of children’s media.

The Hub’s existence forces us to confront simultaneously the inadequacy and lack of enforcement of rules and laws protecting children from overcommercialization. It’s an intensification and aggregation of the growing problem of program-length commercials masquerading as legitimate children’s programming. That most children’s media are platforms for selling children toys, food, clothes, and accessories to kids is both unfair and deceptive. Media characters play an important role in children’s lives—as a source of comfort, excitement, and aspiration. It’s unfair to link those characters to rafts of products and devise marketing schemes designed to convince children that they have to own those products in order to play, or be cool, or be happy. And, in fact, children play less creatively with media-linked toys. Besides, it’s deceptive to blur the distinction between programs and ads.

Hasbro executives make no bones about their intent to use the station to promote Hasbro products and expand the Hasbro brand. As Brian Goldner, Hasbro’s President explained in the Boston Globe, “It became clear that our competitive set had expanded. We were no longer just competing with additional toy and game companies.’’ The lynchpins of the station’s line up are Transformers, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony and other popular characters owned by Hasbro. To critics, the company justifies The Hub in three ways. The station will provide more choice for parents; only some of the shows are based on its products; and—in the age old junior high refrain—“everybody’s doing it.”

About choice: Actually, the last thing parents need is a slew of more media programming for kids. Between TV, the Web, video games and phone apps there are already plenty of choices among the good, the bad, and the ugly. And, on average, children are spending way too much time with screen media anyway—32 hours a week for preschool children and more than 50 hours a week for older kids. Parents following the AAP’s recommendation for screen time for children over the age of 2 would only need to find 4 half-hour programs a day for their children to watch. Surely between the offerings of PBS, Sprout, Noggin, Cartoon Network, the many Nickelodeon and Disney stations, and all of the movies available—there’s more than enough choice without The Hub.

Less than 20% of the shows are based on Hasbro products: First of all, that’s about 18% too many. And what’s to stop Hasbro from adding more and more branded programming in the coming months and years? If the product-based shows make money, we can expect that that Hasbro will add more of them. Interestingly enough, the company’s actions imply that it believes that the shows touting their products are actually commercials. Instead of designating the standard 12 minutes of regular commercials per hour on weekdays, the station will only have six. But since the shows based on Hasbro toys, and showing the image of those toys in their content (like Transformers and Strawberry Shortcake), they are essentially 24 minute commercials anyway—way more than the amount allotted for children’s programming by the Children’s Television Act.

Everybody’s doing it: It’s unfortunately true that most children’s programs, including many on PBS, generate income from brand licensing—but it’s harmful to kids that there are so few media experiences available to them that aren’t primarily an implicit pitch for a whole slew of stuff (see paragraph 2 of this piece).

Hasbro isn’t the only company blatantly flouting the inadequacy of our current regulatory environment this season. Last month, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a Federal Communications Commission complaint against Zevo-3, a show premiering on Nicktoons which is based solely and completely on logos and spokescharacters for the shoe giant Skechers. We believe that the show violates some of the very few rules and laws we have protecting children from overcommercialization. The FCC has begun proceedings to investigate whether the show is in the public interest and has invited public comment; we’re pleased that our efforts have sparked the first national conversation about program-length commercials aimed at children in almost 20 years.

I’ve worked with CCFC since its inception because I believe that we have an obligation to build a society that supports parents and encourages, rather than undermines, children’s healthy development. But social change takes time. So I hope that, in the meantime, parents decide to snub The Hub and let Hasbro know that its expansion from toys to TV just goes too far.

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Friday, October 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.

For Pupils, a Note and Ad from School – Peabody, MA school committee approves advertising on elementary school notices like permission slips and school calendars. This is the latest in a trend of struggling schools selling out students in an attempt to fill budget gaps.

Healthy Kids, Healthy Families! Disney Launches Magic of Healthy Living – Disney teams up with Michelle Obama and the Ad Council (sponsored by the Dept. of Agriculture) for a series of PSAs starring Disney characters to promote “healthy lifestyles” for kids and families, which direct kids to new Disney websites designed to promote health—and obviously the Disney brand.

Skechers Show a Hot Topic for FCC – The latest in the media coverage of the FCC’s inquiry into CCFC’s petition that the upcoming Skechers cartoon is nothing but a 22-minute ad. The author writes, “If the Federal Communications Commission decided that TV shows based on toys constitute illegal program-length commercials, the implications could be bigger than a life-sized Barbie.” Multichannel subscription required.

'Happy Meal' Legislation Will Be Back for Seconds
– San Francisco Happy Meal junk food toy ban will be debated again next week, even after company that makes fast food toy trinkets launched the (desperate) website

Parents Unaware of Kids' Online Gaming: Survey – 77% of Canadian kids 6-17 said they played online games, but only 5% of parents believed their children engaged in online gaming, and 90% of children age 6-12 reported playing an online game in the past 4 weeks.

But, Mo-o-o-o-m! -- Converting Engaged Teens To Sales
– Inside the marketing mindset: This trade publication article advises advertisers on how to transform teens into dollar signs for companies.  The author writes, “a teen might have the cash for a can of soda, but wouldn't you rather sell them a case for $8.99?”

Kucinich Proposal Would Raise $15-19 Billion for Childhood Nutrition Efforts – Rep. Kucinich says it’s not fair to cut food stamp money to fund childhood nutrition efforts, when plenty could be saved by disallowing tax deductions for companies that market junk food to kids: “Kucinich announced that the Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that his proposal to revoke corporate tax deductions for advertising and marketing expenses aimed at selling junk food and fast food to children could provide $15-19 billion (over 10 years) for child nutrition programs.”

As Tween Girls Start to Look Toward New Fashion Influences, Parents May Resist – Parents and schools aren’t so keen on sexualized fashions for “tween” girls, but shopping for non-provocative clothes for 8-13-year-old girls can be quite a challenge with “risque” fashions filling the aisles and dominating marketing.
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