CCFC Blog

Last week I blogged about how the Center for Public Interest (CSPI) is threatening a lawsuit against McDonald's for using toys to promote Happy Meals to kids. Since then, McDonald's has responded, sort of. In a letter apparently fed to the press even before CSPI got to see it, McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner attempts to "set the record straight:" We have a long history of working with responsible NGOs who are interested in serious dialogue and meaningful engagement; and we are open to constructive feedback. Really? Like how McDonald's worked with those two activists in the UK by suing them for libel in the 1990s for putting out a simple brochure? The case (dubbed McLibel) spawned a book and a movie and became notorious for being the longest...
When it comes to marketing to children, self-regulation is never going to work, and an article in the Wall Street Journal gets to the crux of why it won’t. Elaine Kolish, vice president and director of the food industry’s Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, told Congress that the voluntary nutritional standards proposed by a group of federal agencies for what could and could not be marketed to children were too strict. "There are very few products, period, that meet these standards, whether they're primarily consumed by adults or children.” According to the article, Kolish said that, “General Mills Inc. would be unable to gear advertising for Cheerios cereal, with 190 milligrams of sodium per serving, to children because...
I’m not surprised that American Girl dolls are about to be sold a la Webkins with keys to a virtual world—the brand’s fate was sealed when it was sold to Mattel. But the news made me sad.  It’s yet another corporate message to children that their imaginative world—their own creative play—isn’t good enough.  Back in the day, I was rather fond of the dolls. This was before the factory moved to China, before the television shows, the movies, and the designer stores featuring $25 facials for little plastic faces. Okay, I’m a sucker for dolls, but I come by it honestly.  My mother was a sucker for them, too. My mom died in 1993, when my daughter was four.  Before her death, she purchased Kirsten Larson (the one of Swedish ancestry who gets to...
It was only a matter of time. Last month, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) served McDonald's with a notice of its intent to sue if the fast food giant continues to use toys to promote Happy Meals. (An "intent to sue" letter is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit in some states.) The basis for the potential case is that using toys to market to small children is unfair and deceptive under the consumer protection laws in a number of states. According to CSPI's letter, McDonald's toy promotions violate the laws of California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, and the District of Columbia. CSPI's litigation director Stephen Gardner explained in a statement that "McDonald's is the stranger in the playground handing out candy...
Because I tend to focus my attention on news being generated by the major food companies, I don't always pay close attention to the latest scary reports on obesity data. So when the annual report called F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing America came out this week, I just thought, Oh there's that report again with the awful name, with the same gloomy numbers as last year. But then I got an interesting email message forwarded from New York University professor and food politics maven Marion Nestle that made me realize I should pay closer attention to this year's report. The email was from Harold Goldstein, executive director of the highly effective non-profit, California Center for Public Health Advocacy. He was...
There are days when the forces that mine childhood for profit seem too formidable; when the corporate capture of our government feels like far too much to overcome; when the chorus of "it's all parents' fault" is so deafening that I have trouble hearing other voices. And then there are days like today, when something extraordinary happens that renews my faith that a commercial-free childhood is possible. I have just read a truly remarkable, eloquent essay by the most unexpected source. Alex Bogusky is a Founding Partner of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, one of the nation's most influential and successful ad agencies. Until recently, their accounts included Burger King and the agency is responsible for, among other things, the infamous...
I happen to know a five-year-old fan of SpongeBob SquarePants who told her father, in no uncertain terms, that SpongeBob mac and cheese tastes better than any other macaroni and cheese.  It turns out she was right—sort of. A recent study from the Rudd Center at Yale found that characters like Scooby-Doo and Dora the Explorer actually influence how children experience the taste of junk food, as well as their choice for a snack. The study provides more evidence that marketing can trump children’s senses.  Last year, researchers at Stanford found that children believed that food wrapped in McDonalds packaging tastes better than food wrapped in plain wrappers. What interests me most about the Rudd Center study, however, is that it found no...
Haven’t we been down this road before? A few years ago, it was BusRadio promising to make school buses safer and calmer with its student-targeted radio broadcasts. Now it’s television that marketers claim will soothe the beast. From the Dallas Morning News: Television can be a ready baby sitter in the living room, but will it work on school buses? The Garland school district is experimenting with playing educational videos on a school bus to help cut discipline problems. For $1,500 per bus, Carrollton-based AdComp Systems installs a 26-inch flat screen TV at the front of the bus. The screen plays videos supplied by NASA, the Discovery network, History Channel and others. The similarities between BusRadio – which closed its doors...
It’s old news that it is virtually impossible to find a movie for kids these days not selling them toys, clothing, food and accessories. But that doesn’t mean we should stop being outraged about it. Particularly egregious is when a film cloaks itself in positive messages while cynically undermining them by brand licensing, product placement and cross promotions. So I’ll say this for the Disney/Pixar studios: The company does a fabulous job of making films that simultaneously promote and trash socially responsible causes—the former through creative content and the latter through marketing. It’s true that when Pixar execs partnered with British Petroleum to promote Wall-E, the critically acclaimed animated post-apocalyptic environmental...
Nickelodeon has been urging children to vote for their favorite games at Addicting Games.com, a gaming website that is part of its popular media empire for kids. Tomorrow morning, in a television special called the Addicting Games Showdown, Nickelodeon will announce which game was voted “Most Heart-Pounding,” “Most Superior Ninja” and “OMG! Cutest Animal.” It may sound like Addicting Games is just another innocuous game site for children, but that’s not the case. CCFC has been monitoring AddictingGames.com for several months. The site, which is just a click away from many of Nick’s popular websites for children, contains numerous sexualized and graphically violent games that aren’t—by any stretch of the imagination—suitable for kids....

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