Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Commercialism Corner

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

The Next Great American Consumer--Infants to 3-year-olds: They're a new demographic marketers are hell-bent on reaching - Marketers talk about "beginning a relationship with the child" from birth by getting their brands in front of babies earlier than ever. Adweek covers this new trend of marketers targeting infants.

Little girls or little women? The Disney princess effect – As described in this article, the commercialized sexualization of girls through media and marketing has startling effects. Learn what CCFC, SPARK Summit, Hardy Girls Healthy Women and other advocacy groups are doing to make childhood better for girls.

Regulators propose tougher online privacy protections for kids – The FTC has proposed important changes to the implementation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The proposed rules would prevent companies from tracking children online for behavioral advertising and empower parents to control how and whether their children's private information is used across digital platforms. Read the L.A. Times article here: and CCFC’s statement in support of the proposed changes here:

Ads for PG-13 Movies in Kids' Media? Motion Picture Association Says for These Films, It's Fine – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit, or CARU, the ad industry’s self-regulatory group, finds PG-13 movies marketed to younger kids. But when they bring it to the attention of the Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA says it’s fine because they approved the ads. This has been the pattern for CARU’s work on PG-13 movie marketing.

Battle of commercial interests confound fight against noncommunicable diseases – The UN talks on global efforts to reduce noncommunicable diseases, including obesity, present serious tensions between commercial and public health interests. Public health advocates want rules to protect children from junk food advertising, but junk food marketers fiercely oppose the idea.

Viacom spent $600,000 lobbying government in 2Q – Viacom, Nickelodeon’s parent company, spent $600,000 in the second quarter to lobby the federal government on advertising to children. Add this to the $1.1 million it spent in the first quarter, and that’s a whole lot of money from a single corporation influencing congress to let marketers keep on targeting children.

Karen Heller: Offer of soda-industry funds fell flat, as it should have
– In a fantastic show of leadership, Philadelphia’s Nutter administration turns down an offer of a soda-industry sponsored anti-obesity campaign.  He says, “"It seems to me that accepting money from the beverage industry to fight obesity would be like taking money from the NRA to fight gun violence or from the tobacco industry for smoking cessations…I mean, it's ludicrous."
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Monday, September 12, 2011

Nickelodeon Admits SpongeBob Not Fit For Preschoolers

A new study from researchers at the University of Virginia finds that watching SpongeBob SquarePants has a negative influence on preschoolers' executive functioning. Children who watched 9 minutes of the show scored significantly worse on assessments designed to measure memory and problem solving skills than children who watched a slower-paced cartoon or kids who spent 9 minutes drawing.

The findings are important, but perhaps not as important as Nickelodeon’s startling announcement when asked about the study. The children’s network told CNN that SpongeBob is intended for 6-11-year-olds, not preschoolers, which is a bit surprising considering that SpongeBob is consistently among the highest rated shows for young children. What could possibly have led parents to think that SpongeBob is meant for preschoolers?

It couldn't be these, could it?

Or this?
Or these?
There are thousands for SpongeBob products for children under six on the market. But in light of this study and Nick's earth-shattering announcement, I'm sure it's just a matter of time* before SpongeBob gets out of the potty seat, sippy cup, and footie pajama business.

*When Bikini Bottom freezes over.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

"But Mama, just buy one at the store"

The following post was written by guest blogger Brandy King. After spending the last eight years working with research on children and media, Brandy now faces the challenge of raising two young boys in a media-saturated and commercialized world. This is the first in a series of posts about attempting to maintain a commercial-free childhood for her sons. If you've faced similar challenges, we invite you to comment below about your struggles and successes.

"Cameron, look! This is the backpack you're going to take to preschool!" I said with genuine excitement as I pointed to the catalog picture. The primary-colored backpack with the embroidered dumptruck was just perfect for my little guy.

"No!" he yelled in that charming way two-year-olds have. "I want to take my Thomas backpack!"

I was puzzled. "Cameron, you don't have a Thomas backpack..."

"But Mama, just buy one at the store."

This was Cameron's first "consumer moment;" the first time he had asked me to purchase anything. I wasn't quite sure what to say, so I responded with the classic "We'll see" and surprisingly, he let it go.

I never ordered that dumptruck backpack. And when his grandmother heard this story and immediately purchased a Thomas backpack for him, I kept it hidden in the basement. I needed time to think about this. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to set a precedent for how I would respond to this kind of request. How did he know it was an option to have Thomas on a backpack? When did he start to understand that I could purchase things? I needed to think back to why my immediate reaction was "No" and I needed to consider why I hadn't just responded that way in the first place.

When Cameron was born, I was in my fifth year of work as a research librarian at The Center on Media and Child Health. After everything I had read about marketing to children, I had decided to make a conscious effort to limit his exposure to media in general and to licensed characters in particular. (Brand new research confirms my instinct: The more familiar kids are with commercial characters, the more they nag their parents for purchases).

Cameron first learned about Thomas from a puzzle at someone's house. He had not watched the TV show and did not own any items with Thomas on them. I really have no idea what prompted him to proclaim his need for Thomas to be on his backpack that particular day, but my first thought was "Half the kids in his class will probably have a Thomas backpack" and I didn't want him to be one of them.

So why hadn't I said no right there? I realize now that my line of thought was "I want him to be excited about preschool and if a Thomas backpack stirs up excitement, then maybe I should get him one." But after some serious thinking, I came to the conclusion that what I want him to be excited about is learning, playing, and meeting other kids. And those have nothing to do with Thomas.

So I have spent the last two months psyching him up for all the new friends he'll make and for all the painting, building, and dress-up he'll be able to do. All the descriptions have worked; he is eager for the first day of school. And when he arrives, he'll be wearing an adorable backpack patterned with regular old run-of-the-mill trains, trucks and cars.

Do you remember you child's first "consumer moment"? What did they ask for? How did you respond? Comment below!
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