Transformers Marketing: Still Not Transformed; After 16 Months, MPAA Still Ignores FTC Staff’s Request on Marketing Violent PG-13 Movies to Children

Date of Release: 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 25, 2009
Contact:  Evan Silverstein (617.278.4174;
For Immediate Release

Transformers Marketing: Still Not Transformed
After 16 Months, MPAA Still Ignores FTC Staff’s Request on Marketing Violent PG-13 Movies to Children; CCFC Urges FTC to Take Action.

Yesterday the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood sent a letter to Chairman Jon Leibowitz of the Federal Trade Commission urging the FTC to stop the marketing of violent PG-13 movies targeted to children. CCFC cited over 2,700 ads shown on children’s television stations for four of this summer’s violent PG-13 blockbusters including Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek, Terminator Salvation, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The commercials were shown between 6:00 am and 8:00 pm on children’s stations such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and include ads for the films, as well as movie-related licensed toys and Burger King Kid’s Meal promotions.
CCFC’s appeal comes two years after the national advocacy organization first urged the FTC to act on the marketing of PG-13 movies. CCFC’s initial request was spurred by the 2007 premiere of the first Transformers film which was marketed to children as young as two through ads, toys, and food promotions. In response to CCFC’s initial complaint, the staff of the FTC urged the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to devise a marketing plan for PG-13 films that is “consistent with the rating.”

“Because the MPAA continues to ignore the FTC’s request, this summer preschoolers are once again being subjected to a barrage of advertising for violent PG-13 blockbusters,” said Susan Linn, CCFC’s Director and a psychologist at Judge Baker Children’s Center. “When it comes to the film industry and children’s wellbeing, it’s clear that self-regulation has failed.”

From March 17th to June 14th, CCFC tracked over 2,700 commercials for the violent PG-13 movies, as well as ads for associated toys and Burger King Kid’s Meals, shown between 6:00 am and 8:00 pm, on children’s channels. CCFC found that, of the 915 ads for licensed toys associated with the films, 68% were shown before 5:00 pm, a time when very young children are even more likely to be watching. Two of the films, Star Trek and Transformers, have Kid’s Meal promotions. Of the 487 Star Trek-related Burger King Kid’s Meal promotions, 349, or 72% were found by CCFC to have been shown before 5:00 pm. Ads for Transformer-related Burger King commercials began airing on June 22nd.  

Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige, author of Taking Back Childhood and a CCFC Steering Committee member said, “Research shows that children are more affected by the violent acts they see on the screen than adults and that they are less able to understand them in the context of character, motive, and plot. Because of this, children are especially vulnerable to the desensitizing effects of violence in entertainment.”

She added, “Marketing violent PG-13 movies on children's television stations is harmful to children and confusing for parents. When PG-13 films come with toys and Kid’s Meal promotions, parents think these films are fine for children to see but they are not."
Research shows that many of the PG-13 films routinely marketed to children as young as seven today–and often marketed to preschoolers–are films that would have been rated R fifteen years ago. Noting that, CCFC’s letter said, “Despite the urging of the FTC, parents, advocacy groups, and CARU, the MPAA has refused to develop and enforce an explicit policy for the marketing of PG-13 movies. As a result, PG-13 films–including movies with significant violent content–are consistently marketed in a manner that contradicts the 'Parents Strongly Cautioned' message accompanying their PG-13 rating.”

Added Dr. Linn, “It’s bad enough that movie companies advertise violent, PG-13 films on children’s channels before 8:00 pm. But marketing the films through ads for licensed toys and kid’s meals is especially unfair and deceptive. For years, the FTC has expressed concern about violent, PG-13 movies being promoted to children. Now the Commission needs to act.”

 CCFC’s full FTC complaint is available here.

The FTC’s January, 2008 recommendation to the MPAA is available here.