ARTICLES: Pressure builds against ads directed at children
- SOURCE: http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/living/8318600.htm
Pressure builds against ads directed at children
By Joseph Pereira and Audrey Warren
Wall Street Journal
Health and children's advocates are turning up the volume on calls for
tighter restrictions on television ads aimed at kids. Stoking their efforts
are growing concerns over obesity and research indicating that young viewers
are especially susceptible to commercial messages.
Last month, the American Psychological Association called for sharp federal
restrictions on commercials aimed at children younger than 8. Also last
month, the Kaiser Family Foundation fingered TV watching and TV ads as prime
suspects in rising juvenile-obesity rates. And at a recent U.S. Senate
subcommittee hearing, the debate over the mass media's role in obesity grew
so heated that lawmakers are considering a follow-up hearing.
Now the American Academy of Pediatrics, the APA and other health care groups
plan to step up lobbying for more limits on ads. An organization of groups
critical of youth advertising, called Stop Commercial Exploitation of
Children, has launched a petition drive calling on the Federal Trade
Commission or Government Accounting Office to review the oversight of
marketing to children.
``We think it's time for the government to take a real hard look at the
industry's practices,'' says Susan Linn, a psychiatry instructor at Harvard
Medical School and head of the foundation-supported group. Linn cites
estimates that companies spend $15 billion a year on marketing to children.
Critics point to common themes in many kid-focused ads. They often rely on
cartoon characters that young children recognize, such as Scooby-Doo, to
sell snacks or sugared cereal. Many of the ads appeal to their young
targets' rebellious impulses. Recent spots for Kraft Foods Inc.'s
Lunchables, for example, shows kids in crowded classrooms using the product
like a video-game control to erase a pop quiz from the blackboard or
fast-forward the hands of the clock. The ads end with, ``You're in
In a spot for Kellogg Co.'s French Toast Pop-Tarts, a boy enters a diner
filled with unattractive adults, orders Pop-Tarts and is instantly served.
In a Kellogg spot for Eggo French Toaster Sticks, a guy in a French toast
suit bursts from a car, leading police and a kid on a backyard chase. A
commercial for Cap'n Crunch Choco Donuts, from PepsiCo's Quaker Oats, shows
the captain crashing a ship into a swimming pool, sending up a shower of
chocolate doughnuts, milk and a woman in a bathing suit.
``Usually grown-ups are just stupid and stand in the way of what kids want''
in these ads, says Diane Levin, an education professor at Wheelock College,
Boston. ``The idea is to create,'' she said, ``a sort of premature
adolescent rebellion among kids.''
Marketers -- and not just those of kids foods -- see a major threat brewing.
``Momentum, not just in the U.S., but in Europe as well, is building and
we're watching developments very closely,'' says Tom Conley, president of
the Toy Industry of America, a trade group. Strategy XXI Group Ltd., a New
York consulting firm is working for the toy-industry group to track efforts
to limit youth ads in nearly 20 counties.
``As an industry, we strongly reject the claims that advertising causes
childhood obesity and the related premise that new government restrictions
or bans on advertising to children should be imposed,'' said Bob Liodice,
chief executive of the Association of National Advertisers, who testified at
the Senate hearings.
Instead of governmental intervention, ``parents must learn to say no more
frequently to their children,'' says Dan Jaffe, head of ANA's lobbying
office in Washington, warning, ``Any ban or restriction could bring
children's programming on free TV to an end.''
Current restrictions in the U.S., enforced by the Federal Communications
Commission under the 1990 Children's Television Act, limit ads on children's
programs to no more than 10.5 minutes per half hour on weekends and 12
minutes an hour on weekdays. An industry-established group, the Children's
Advertising Review Unit has been designated by the FTC since 1978 to be a
self-regulating body, reviewing ads and claims targeted to children.
Tightening existing limits would take a law enacted by Congress or a change
in administrative rules by the FTC or another agency, though any such
measures would face fierce opposition from advertisers.
Many advertisers say they have no desire to set kids against authority
figures with their ads. Kellogg says it stands by the nutritional value of
Cinnamon Marshmallow Scooby-Doo cereal and that cartoon characters are an
appropriate way to help young consumers distinguish brands. The French Toast
Pop-Tarts spot is meant to contrast generations, but no commercial is meant
to show any group in a negative light, says Celeste Clark, a company
spokeswoman. ``We are very sensitive to making sure the commercial messages
aren't disparaging in any way.''
Kraft says its Lunchables ads aren't meant to make kids rebel. The slogan
``You're in Control'' refers to how kids can build sandwiches with
Lunchables, says Kathy Knuth, a spokeswoman. ``Our belief is that moms still
make the decision on what kids eat.''
Susan Wolfe, a Quaker spokeswoman, says Cap'n Crunch is a ``fun cereal'' and
Quaker takes creative measures to create awareness for it. ``Relative to the
issue of childhood obesity, exercise definitely must play an active part of
the solution,'' she adds.
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