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SCEC NEWS ~ Summer, 2003

SCEC News is a regular service for members and friends of the Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children coalition.   SCEC's mission is to stop commercial exploitation of children through action, advocacy, research, and collaboration among organizations and individuals who care about children.  

SAVE THE DATE!

SCEC’s NEXT SUMMIT will be

FEBUARY 14, 2004 in NEW YORK CITY.

To coincide with the KidScreen marketing summit and the International Toy Fair!

IN THIS ISSUE

Pernicious Golden Marble Awards Roll Into the Sunset  

After three years of protests led by SCEC, the advertising industry’s Golden Marble Awards have been suspended.  The Golden Marble celebrated the “most successful” (read: most lucrative) corporate marketing to kids regardless of its effect on the well-being of children and families.

Presented every September in New York City, past awards heaped praises on child psychologists who advise the advertising industry on how to more effectively manipulate children for profit, as well as the explosion of  “cross-promotion” that ties sales of junk food and junk toys in popular children’s entertainment – movies like Shrek and Spy Kids, along with outlets like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.  Since 2000, SCEC held protest rallies outside the Golden Marble Awards ceremonies, and once staged a mock ceremony – the “Have You Lost Your Marbles Awards” – drawing attention to some of the worst examples of commercial exploitation of kids.

A statement on the Golden Marble website says, “We’ve decided to take this year off to sit back and re-evaluate the project.” While the end of the Golden Marbles is only one smallvictory in the uphill fight against the corporate manipulation of kids, the fact that children’s advertising industry no longer feels comfortable publicly celebrating their exploits is important.   

More Good News: Reactions to the Obesity Epidemic

Growing public awareness of the obesity epidemic is focusing much-needed attention on issues of marketing and children.  A recent conference hosted by Northeastern University’s Public Health Advocacy Institute, “Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic,” brought together a wide range of lawyers, public health experts, and activists and attracted lots of media attention.  A presentation by SCEC’s Susan Linn on the techniques used to market unhealthy food to children was well received and there was a general consensus among the conference’s participants that these practices were one area on the food companies were particularly vulnerable. 

Apparently some people working in the food industry agree.  Several days later, Kraft Foods announced they would stop their in-school marketing.  While this PR move should be viewed with skepticism, it suggests that Kraft, like the Golden Marbles’ sponsor, is aware of the negative publicity that can accompany predatory marketing practices.

Meanwhile, a number of school districts are reviewing their “pouring contracts” with soda manufacturers.  New York City recently banned soda and junk food from school vending machines.  Anyone familiar with New York’s dire financial situation can appreciate what a courageous decision this was.  In Seattle, the school board’s decision to renew the district’s Coke contract was so hotly debated that pouring contracts figure to be the main issue in the upcoming board elections.

SCEC MEMBER NEWS

Dads and Daughters is celebrating the recent announcement by the Department of Education that reaffirmed current policies and regulations for Title IX, the federal law that bars gender discrimination and which led to an explosion in girls’ sports.  DADs led several letter-writing campaigns in support of Title IX after the Department of Education announced it was conducting an extensive review of the legislation.  The decision to keep Title IX intact represents a major victory for girls, women, and, as DADs President Joe Kelly would be the first to tell you, fathers.

VIDEO REVIEW

Captive Audience: Advertising Invades the Classroom

This excellent new video from the Media Education Foundation examines the escalating problem of corporate marketing to children in school.   Narrated by SCEC’s Alvin F. Poussiant, Captive Audiences details such assaults on children’s health and education as corporate sponsored curriculum materials, pouring contracts with major beverage companies like Coca Cola and Pepsico, and Channel One’s commercially sponsored news programs.  Even as the video shows how cash strapped schools are vulnerable to marketers, commentators Alex Molnar, Henry Giroux, Arnold Fege and Naomi Klein make clear the real costs of  “free” soda money, corporate sponsored classroom materials and equipment. In addition to laying out the problem of in school marketing, Captive Audience takes the important step of exploring avenues for resisting school commercialism including local activism and legislation.

Available in VHS or DVD; the DVD comes with valuable bonus material including a complete Channel One broadcast.  For ordering info, please visit http://www.mediaed.org

THINGS WE WISH WE DIDN’T KNOW

  • Toys R’ Us and other retailers have started hosting camps as a way of attracting kids during the summer.   Marketing executive Lois Huff told the Washington Times the camps were “diabolically clever” because even though they are free, parents almost always buy something[1]

  • Preschools are targets for American Greetings, which is trying to rekindle interest in the Care Bears (remember them?) by distributing branded posters, worksheets and other materials to 5,000 preschools, including important lessons such as “What kind of a Care Bear am I?”  The promotion heralds a line of Care Bear home videos and DVDs later this year[2].

  • Meanwhile, McDonalds may replace Ronald McDonald. Why? Not because they’re suddenly worried about the ethics of using a clown to market junk food directly to young children.  Rather, according on one McDonald’s executive, there are concerns that Ronald isn’t “sassy” enough to resonate with today’s kids.[3] 

  • As toy companies continue to undermine children’s creative play combining toys with electronic media, a number of fall releases--including long time favorites from Play Doh and Hot Wheels--will come with videos or DVD’s designed to “give kids an immediate understanding of the product” and increase sales of video games and “other products.”  Since when to kids need videos to gain an understanding of Play Doh?  The lines between toys and electronic media are ever more blurred. [4]

  • CREEPY QUOTE OF THE MONTH:  “In the home, while every family is different, you can generalize and say that mom keeps the social schedules, dad manages the finances, and the kid programs the VCR,” marketing executive Marston Allen explaining why advertisers should pay more attention to children when selling technology products to families.[5]

EDITORIAL: Now is the time

During a recent episode of Nightline, Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, kept trying to make the point that the food companies bear some responsibility for the growing obesity epidemic, but host Chris Bury wasn’t buying it.  No matter what Brownell said, Bury and Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Association of America steered the discussion back “personal responsibility.”   When Brownell began discussing how children were bombarded with ads for unhealthy foods, however, the tone shifted.  For the first time, Grabowski went on the defensive as Bury questioned him about the food industry’s marketing practices.

Marketing to children is in the news.  While many media commentators mock or dismiss the idea of “fat suits” as a way for greedy trial lawyers to get rich, it is hard to find someone willing to defend the food companies marketing practices aimed at children.  Because how do you defend the indefensible?   If, as marketers claim, parents are responsible for what their children eat, why aim food ads at children at all?  A few years ago only a few of us were asking that question.  Now columnists such as Marvin Kitman of Newsday are calling for a ban on food advertising to children under 12.

It’s an exciting time for people concerned about the commercial exploitation of children, as a national debate about how much we allow our children to fall into the hands of marketers has begun.  It’s a time to question—as school districts from Seattle to New York are doing-- the legitimacy of pouring contracts and junk food marketing in schools.  It is also a time, as a recent op-ed in the New York Times suggests, to expand the debate from food advertising in schools to all advertising in schools–or all advertising aimed at children.  Most important, it’s a time to get involved. 

Pick an issue that really gets your blood boiling and do something about it.  For instance, you could:

  • Call your school board and find out if they have a deal with Coke or Pepsi.  If they do, let your local paper know about it and talk to other parents about your concerns. Visit the Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools’ website  to see how parents in Seattle are resisting commercialism in the schools.  

  • Sign the Parents Bill of Rights and send a copy to your representative.  

  • Join the fight against the recent FCC decision to deregulate media ownership  

  • Tape an hour of children’s television and show it to a group of friends. Are the shows de facto commercials for toys, food or other products?  Count the commercials.  Many parents are unaware of the myriad ways their children are targeted.

These are just a few suggestions.  If there is a marketing practice you find particularly egregious and you’re not sure what to do about, let us know and we’ll help you come up with some ideas.

Finally, keep talking about the commercial exploitation of children.  Now, more than ever, people are listening.

JOIN SCEC

FOR INDIVIDUALS: With a minimum $25 tax deductible membership you receive:

  • A one year year SCEC membership

  • SCEC e-newsletter

  • Notification of events in your area

FOR ORGANIZATIONS:With a minimum $100 membership you receive:

  • All individual benefits

  • Organizational link from the SCEC webpage

  • Publicity for your events and activities

  • Opportunities to collaborate

SCEC Membership Fees:

$10            Student
$25            Individual
$50            Supporter
$100          Organization
$250          Advocate
$500          Activist
$1000        Stakeholder

Checks should be made out to:

SCEC/Judge Baker Children's Center

and sent to:

Barbara B. Sweeny / SCEC
Judge Baker Children's Center
3 Blackfan Circle, Boston, MA 02115

To make a credit card contribution, please contact Abigail Thomas at athomas@jbcc.harvard.edu. 


[1] http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20030712-103339-3928r.htm

[2] Constance Hays.  “Aided by Clifford and the Care Bears, companies go after the toddler market.”  New York Times, July 11, 2003.

[3] Mark Kleinman.  “The changing face of happy meals.” Marketing, July 3, 2003.

[4] T.L. Stanley,  “Toying around with stardom on video;
Companies bundling video premieres to complement products.”  Video Business, June 23, 2003.

[5] David Kaplan, “Targeting the Family's Chief Tech Officer; Marketers slow to leverage kids' influence with their parents.”  Adweek

 
 
 

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