Kids Spoon-Fed Marketing and Advertising for Least Healthy Breakfast Cereals

Kids Spoon-Fed Marketing and Advertising for Least Healthy Breakfast Cereals

(Photo credit: Chris James)

The least healthy breakfast cereals are those most frequently and aggressively marketed directly to children as young as age two, finds a new study from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The researchers’ evaluation of cereal marketing, the first such study of its kind, shows pervasive targeting of children across all media platforms and in stores. The detailed findings of this study, which was supported in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be presented in Washington today at Obesity 2009, the 27th annual scientific meeting of The Obesity Society.

Researchers studied the nutrient composition and comprehensive marketing efforts of 115 cereal brands and 277 individual cereal varieties. Nineteen brands (comprised of 47 varieties) were identified as “child brands” because their cereals are marketed directly to children on television, the Internet, or through licensed characters, such as Dora the Explorer.

Cereal companies spend nearly $156 million annually marketing to children just on television. They also market extensively using the Internet, social media, packaging, and in-store promotions.

“This research demonstrates just how far cereal companies have gone to target children in almost everything they do. The total amount of breakfast cereal marketing to children on television and computer screens, and at their eye-level in stores, combined with the appalling nutrient profile of the cereals most frequently marketed, is staggering,” said lead researcher Jennifer L. Harris, Ph.D, MBA, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center.

Key marketing exposure findings include: Read the rest of this entry »

President Obama Worries About Commercialism of Childhood Too!

President Obama is a Parent Too
By The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

“I worry that even if Michelle and I do our best to impart what we think are important values to our children, the media out there will undermine our lessons and teach them something different.” -President Barack Obama

For those of us concerned about the commercialism of childhood, it’s a boon to have a president who is raising young children. Like parents everywhere, President Obama worries about the steady stream of commercial messages that sexualize children, glorify violence, promote unhealthy eating, and encourage materialism. Indeed, the President has observed that the media and marketing industries have contributed to an “overall coarsening of our culture” and has expressed concerns about the content of ads during children’s shows and family programming. (We wonder if he saw Burger King’s infamous SpongeBob SquareButts ad.) That’s why we’re launching a campaign – bookended by Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – urging President Obama to use the power of his office to protect our children from an onslaught of marketing that undermines good parenting and hurts young people.

Since the 1980s, when children’s television programming was deregulated and Congress restricted the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to regulate marketing to children, corporations have waged a campaign of “cradle to grave” marketing to train children to be loyal consumers for life. The limited resources of hard-working mothers and fathers are no match for multi-billion dollar industries using rapidly evolving technologies to bypass parents and target children directly, not just on television, but through the internet, cell phones, mp3 players, videogames, and even in schools.

That’s why we’re calling on the Obama administration to direct the FTC and Federal Communications Commission to evaluate their current policies and regulations to determine whether or not they provide adequate protection for 21st century families. Such an examination – which should include a thorough investigation of the depth and breadth of marketing to children including new trends in immersive and interactive advertising – will give policymakers the information necessary to evaluate whether our current system of regulation is working and provide parents with invaluable information.

Please click here to urge President Obama to help parents protect their children from corporate marketers.

Have you done your Earth Day shopping yet?

Marketing Earth Day (and Other Stuff) to Children
By Susan Linn and Josh Golin

Have you done your Earth Day shopping yet? Between greeting cards, jewelry, mugs, and teddy bears commemorating the day, its roots in environmental activism have all but been forgotten. Now corporations use Earth Day to sell us on the belief that we can buy our way into ecological sustainability. We can’t.

Reducing consumption is essential to preserving the earth’s resources and preventing its degradation. The same companies that are painting themselves green depend on the profits they earn convincing us to buy more than we need.

Nowhere is this more obvious, and more troubling, than in the world of children’s media and marketing, where companies like Disney, Sesame Workshop, and Nickelodeon are eco-marketing as never before.

Read the rest at Huffington Post.

Take Action: SpongeBob and Sexualization Don’t Mix

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to Nick and Burger King: SpongeBob and Sexualization Don’t Mix

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has launched a letter-writing campaign demanding that Nickelodeon and Burger King immediately pull a new, highly sexualized, television ad for SpongeBob SquarePants Kids Meals. The ad, viewable below, features The King singing a remix of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1990’s hit song, “Baby Got Back” with the new lyrics, “I like square butts and I cannot lie.” The ad shows images of The King singing in front of women shaking their behinds for the camera intercut with images of SpongeBob dancing along.

“It’s bad enough when companies use a beloved media character like SpongeBob to promote junk food to children, but it’s utterly reprehensible when that character simultaneously promotes objectified, sexualized images of women,” said CCFC director Dr. Susan Linn, a psychologist at the Judge Baker Children’s Center.

At one point during the ad, The King even measures the behind of one of the woman who has stuffed a phonebook under her dress. After the King informs children about the free SpongeBob toy they get with the purchase of a Burger King Kids Meal, the ad ends with Sir Mix-A-Lot—lounging on a couch with two female admirers—saying, “Booty is booty.” The ad ran during the NCAA men’s basketball championship and other programming recently.

“No parent watching a major sporting event with their children should have to worry about being assaulted by sexualized imagery,” said Joe Kelly of, a CCFC Steering Committee Member. “Featuring SpongeBob in an ad like this is a new low. Parents who hope to instill values in their children like respect for women would do well to steer clear of Burger King and Bikini Bottom.”

Added Dr. Linn: “Cartoon characters play a powerful role in the lives of young audiences. That Burger King and Nickelodeon would sell Kids Meals by associating a beloved, male character like SpongeBob with lechery shows how little either company cares about the wellbeing of the children they target.”

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups and concerned parents who counter the harmful effects of marketing to children through action, advocacy, education, research, and collaboration. CCFC is headquartered at the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston.

Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood

Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood
New Documentary Film Premiering in Northampton (2009)

The consumer embryo begins to develop during the first year of existence.  Children begin their consumer journey in infancy.  And they certainly deserve consideration as consumers at that time.

– James U. McNeal | Pioneering Youth Marketer

This unsettling quote by a “Pioneering Youth Marketer” opens the critically-acclaimed new documentary film, Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood. Produced locally by the Northampton-based Media Education Foundation (MEF), Consuming Kids zeroes in on the increasingly brazen practices of the multibillion-dollar youth marketing industry in the wake of deregulation, exposing how marketers have used the latest advances in psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience to target American children and transform them into one of the most influential and profitable consumer demographics in the world.

I was glued to my seat as I watched a review copy of this film, feeling the heat of anger rising up into my cheeks as I learned how marketers are scheming to influence my kid (our kids) to consume their products… for life! My family doesn’t watch commercial television in our home, so it shocked me to see the different television ads aimed at marketing to children, trying to sell them everything from junk food to the family car. But as the film reveals, advertising to our kids isn’t found just on the TV, it’s also found on the school bus, the classroom, cell phones, the internet, movies, and even churches. It’s insidious!

Offering a time-line tracing the evolution and impact of this unprecedented phenomenon, Consuming Kids illustrates how the childhood of American kids has become commercialized and explores how the effect of hyperconsumerism impacts the actual lived experiences of our children.

I think the thing that upsets me the most is that it’s not just products that are being marketed to children, but values. And the primary value that’s being sold to kids over and over and over again is the value that things or stuff or brands will make us happy.

– Susan Linn | Director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood


Read the rest of this entry »

Dora the Streetwalker: Sexing-Up Dora the Explorer

Dora Falls into Marketer’s Tween-hood Trap

Sexing up Dora the Explorer

Dora the Streetwalker

She’s been a bilingual world explorer and a problem-solver extraordinaire.  She’s shouted, “Let’s go!” and set off with her compass, backpack, and sidekick monkey.  She’s been a brave, adventurous, resourceful girl.

Now, she’s being made over by Mattel and Nickelodeon to be a lipstick wearing ‘tween.  Marketers are giving Dora a complete makeover, and this time, her accessories include eye shadow rather than a map.

Hardy Girls Healthy Women have expressed that besides Dora’s makeover from kid to ‘tween, advocates for halting Dora’s makeover are concerned that the new ‘tween Dora’s ability to change her hair and eye-color transforms her Latina cultural identity into yet another accessory for marketers to sell.


Mattel and Nickelodeon recently released a statement in which they state “In the nine years she has been on television, Dora has become an important role model to many. The Latina heroine has connected with a generation of young boys and girls all around the world through her courageousness and sense of adventure. We at Nickelodeon and Mattel want to assure parents that none of that is changing.”  Click here to read the AP article “After Dora uproar, Nick and Mattel soothe moms.

Dora the Explorer

Hardy Girls Healthy Women has to say about Mattel and Nickelodeons statement: “The original Dora the Explorer was unique and beloved by both girls and boys because she was adventurous, smart, and loved the outdoors. Trading her compass, map, pet monkey, and sneakers for jewelry, a dress, and the big city, means Dora isn’t the same explorer anymore. The new ‘tween Dora fits right into the narrow mold that defines too many girls’ toys, and thus limits their imagination.” writes HGHW executive director, Megan Williams, in her most recent letter to execs at Mattel and Nick.

Read the four things Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes have to say about the new Dora in response to Mattel and Nikelodeon in their post, “Mattel Doesn’t get it! These Moms Are Not ‘Soothed.'”


For young girls, Dora was a good role model.  For that reason, Hardy Girls Healthy Women is launching a petition drive aimed at convincing Mattel to Let Go of Dora!  The “Let’s Go: No Makeover for Dora” campaign wants Mattel to recognize the truth that girls don’t need one more doll telling them the point of their lives is to attract boys.

Advocates Call on ‘Tween Stores to Stop Selling Flasks

Thanks to Sue Cairan from the Hampshire Educational Collaborative for sending this in:

Image posted by The Beacon News.

February 24th, 2009 -(Source: Join Together) Join underage drinking prevention advocates in calling on the teen accessory store chain, Icing by Claire’s, to stop selling girl-friendly flasks. The initial report was done by the Chicago Sun Times on January 23, 2009.

Join Together reports that the flasks are decorated with charms and designed to hold 5 ounces of liquor and are available for $12.50, and one-shot keychain flasks with room for the individual’s initials are available for $8.50 each.

The flasks show disclaimers that the product is not meant for minors, and warns that the flasks are designed to carry alcoholic beverages and should not be used for beverages with acidic contents like fruit juices. Oregon Partnership announced that Icing by Claire’s said it will continue selling the flasks at its 3,000 stores, but will post signs at store counters supporting “responsible” alcohol consumption.

Advocates are concerned that Icing by Claire’s is encouraging underage drinking by selling flasks, while targeting its products to girls as young as 17. Icing by Claire’s is a subsidiary of Claire’s, Inc., which operates approximately 3,000 stores throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Alcohol containers should not be considered fashion accessories – which plays into young women’s increased alcohol consumption.  Recent studies show that girls are drinking earlier and increasing their alcohol intake. For example, the rate of 14-year-old girls using alcohol escalated from one in ten to almost one-third over the last 40 years. “In many cases, the girls are outdrinking the boys, putting themselves at greater risks,” said Janet Williams, co-chairman of the Illinois Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, which wrote a letter to parent-company Claire’s.


You are encouraged to contact Claire’s corporate offices and voice your concern at these harmful marketing practices:

  • Telephone: 800.252.4737
  • E-mail:
  • Fax: Executive Office, 954.433.3999; Investor Relations, 212.244.4237
  • Mail: Claire’s Stores, Inc., 3 S.W. 129th Avenue, Pembroke Pines, FL 33027

Worst Toy of the Year Award

CCFC 2009 TOADY Award

Barbie Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Doll by Mattel. $79.99

On February 15, the Toy Industry Association will gather to present their TOTY (Toy Of The Year) Awards. But first, in honor of the industry that has led the way in commercializing childhood, CCFC will present its inaugural TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) Award for the worst toy of the year. From thousands of toys that promote violence and/or precocious sexuality to children and push branded entertainment at the expense of children’s play, CCFC has selected five exceptional finalists. Who will win the dreaded TOADY? It’s up to you.

Read more about the TOADY Award and cast your vote over at Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Remote Control Childhood

The following lecture is happening on November 24th, 2008: Remote Control Childhood: How Disney Princesses and Darth Vadar Contribute to Bias and Anti-Social Behavior … and What You Can Do About It.

Please click on the flyer to view larger image.

Thank you Maryellen for pointing out that the link found in this weeks list of Suggested Events did not work. This should be a complete link to the flyer for more information.

ACTION ALERT: Tell Toy Companies: Target Parents, Not Kids, With Holiday Ads

CCFC to Toy Marketers: Leave Kids Alone during Economic Crisis;
Companies Urged to Target Parents Instead this Holiday Season

As families struggle to cope with the global economic crisis, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is urging major retailers and toy and game manufacturers to suspend holiday marketing aimed at children and to target parents instead. In a letter sent to twenty-four CEO’s, CCFC urged companies not to exacerbate family stress by flooding children with ads for toys and games that their parents may not be able to afford. CCFC also launched a letter-writing campaign so that parents could share their concerns directly with companies planning to market to children this holiday season.

“It’s cruel for companies to dangle irresistible ads for toys and electronics in front of children when parents everywhere are worried about their financial future and paying for necessities,” said CCFC’s Director Dr. Susan Linn. “A barrage of holiday marketing will create unrealistic expectations in children too young to understand the economic crises and will make parenting in these uncertain times even more difficult.”

Concerns about the economy are so great that experts predict parents will spend less on toys and gifts for children this holiday season. Reports indicate, however, that spending on advertising to children will not reflect the current economic downturn. CCFC’s letter warns that the combination of commercial pressures on children with inevitable belt-tightening by parents will create a tremendous burden for many families.

Even in better economic times, buying holiday gifts can be a considerable strain on family budgets. A 2005 poll found that approximately one-third of Americans took more than three months to pay off their holiday credit card debt and 14% carried credit card debt into the next holiday season.

“It is bad enough in normal times when marketers bypass parents and encourage children to nag for products,” said Dr. Linn. “But to do so during such a pervasive economic downturn is unconscionable.”

CCFC is urging companies to adopt a different approach. The letter states:

We understand the need to create awareness of your products. We urge you to do that by advertising directly to parents instead of enlisting children as lobbyists for their holiday gifts. Since it’s parents, not children, who can truly understand their family’s financial situation in these difficult times, it is more important than ever that you respect their authority as gatekeepers. Target parents instead of children this holiday season.

The complete text of the letter can be found at:

The complete list of companies that received the letter can be found here:

Read the rest of this entry »

You Did It: Scholastic Expels the Bratz From Schools

You Did It: Scholastic Expels the Bratz From Schools

Thanks to you, Scholastic, Inc. will no longer be promoting the highly sexualized Bratz brand in schools.

In April, 2007, we launched a letter-writing campaign urging Scholastic to stop promoting Bratz items at their book clubs and book fairs.  You flooded Scholastic with emails urging them to stop selling books such as Lil’ Bratz Dancin Divas; Lil’ Bratz Catwalk Cuties; and Lil’ Bratz Beauty Sleepover Bash.

We were disappointed in Scholastic’s initial response. They claimed the Bratz books were important to reach “reluctant readers.” This claim seemed disingenuous, especially when the 2007-2008 Scholastic Bratz items included the Bratz: Rock Angels computer game and the Bratz Fashion Designer stencil set so elementary school students could design “the perfect purse.”

But we kept the pressure on. And in the end, more than 5,000 emails from CCFC members were too much to ignore. Scholastic has confirmed that they will no longer be selling Bratz Items in schools. We applaud Scholastic for this decision.

If you would like to thank Scholastic, you can do so by writing to:
Richard Robinson, CEO
Scholastic, Inc.
557 Broadway
New York, NY 10012
(212) 343-6100

It’s Official: Big Food Targets Kids

It’s Official: Big Food Targets Kids
by Michele Simon

It’s a rare day when I think the Federal Trade Commission has actually performed a valuable public service and lived up to its motto, “For the Consumer.” But last week, the agency charged with protecting us from unscrupulous marketers (among other corporate aggression) released a landmark report on food marketing to children. At the request of Congress, FTC subpoenaed 44 food and beverage companies to find out just how much money is spent targeting youth with food marketing. While the recommendations are worthless (more on that later), the data is priceless.

READ MORE: It’s Official: Big Food Targets Kids.

National School Boards Association ED Responds to Schools Selling to Kids on Myspace

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood asks the National School Boards Association to Disavow Industry-Funded Report on Social Networking

Local educators need objective, honest information – not marketing hype – to guide their efforts toward helping students grapple with the current unprecedented convergence of sophisticated, ubiquitous media technology and unfettered commercialism. The escalating push to drive kids to commercial online social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, that are rife with embedded advertising, is getting a boost from an unexpected quarter — the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

One of the most recent calls for action by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has encouraged concerned parents to read a report published by the NSBA urging school boards to reconsider any rules against using commercial social networking sites in classrooms. While extolling the educational benefits of these sites in this report, it makes no mention of the fact that the primary purpose is to generate advertising revenue. This omission is not surprising seeing as the research, conducted by a public relations firm which is selling its data to corporations who wish to exploit it, was funded by Microsoft (which has a financial stake in Facebook), News Corporation (which owns MySpace) and Verizon, which advertises on both sites. (Click here to read the report)

Anne L. Bryant, Executive Director or the National School Boards Association, has sent a prompt response to one concerned parent’s letter:

Read the rest of this entry »

Scholastic VP responds to distribution of Bratz books in schools

Marketing the Sexualization of Young Girls


One of the most recent calls for action by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has encouraged concerned parents to tell Scholastic to stop distributing Bratz books in schools through their Book Clubs and School Book Fairs.

A recent report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls had drawn attention to the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image. (Click here to read the report)

Books of The Bratz – a line of highly sexualized dolls for girls as young as four are – being marketed in schools by Scholastic, Inc. Scholastic promotes Bratz through its book fairs and book clubs, selling titles such as Lil’ Bratz Dancin Divas; Lil’ Bratz Catwalk Cuties; and Lil’ Bratz Beauty Sleepover Bash to a captive audience of young students.

Kyle Good, Vice President at Scholastic, has sent a prompt response to one concerned parent’s request to reconsider their distribution in schools:
Read the rest of this entry »

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