Monday, April 21, 2008

Let's Ban Advertising Aimed at Children

Gianna is involved with a homeschool Co-op. The Co-op meets every Friday morning. At the end of the year, the Co-op has a "spotlight" night where the students show off their hard work from the semester. My daughter's preschool class displayed, among other things, simple questionnaires (with answers). Below I've reproduced the answers that one child gave:



Did you know that 96% of school age children recognize Ronald McDonald? Only Santa Claus ranks higher.

I read Fast Food Nation back in January. One argument the author made, which I found very compelling, was that all T.V. ads aimed at children should be banned (not just fast food ads, but ALL ads). According to the author, a country in Europe has actually passed legislation banning such ads.

The argument is this--kids under the age of reason don't understand the concept of an ad. Children take the information they see and process it as though it is fact. If a kid doesn't understand that an ad is an ad, they make the perfect customer. Ripe for the picking, children are suckered into thinking they want all kinds of unhealthy things.

Obviously the parents then have the difficult job of saying "No, No, No" or, more importantly, turning off the television. But isn't it at least mildy unethical that large companies spend loads of money convincing children under the age of 7 that they want and need various products?

And, guess who does the dirty job better than ANY other company, except maybe Disney--McDonald's. McDonald's has perfected marketing their products to children. In addition to Ronald McDonald, play lands abound, and those nifty little toys and dolls that come in the happy meals seal the deal. Some of the parents in my co-op, upon seeing the above student project, stated that they take their children to McDonald's just to play. "You mean you don't buy anything?" I asked curiously. "Well no," they answered, "except a soda and some fries."

****Update--one of our readers informed us that there is an organzation that wants to limit advertising aimed at children. Check out the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

35 comments:

Mary Alice said...

Intriguing. One of the things that overwhelms me is the amount of trash that is produced by one families trip to McDonalds. I know a mom who mentioned with great pride that her children did not know what those Golden Arches in the sky stood for. At the time I thought that she was a bit nuts but I have come to totally agree.

Advertising is a big part of why we don't watch TV.

On a related note, I am thinking about banning Disney princesses from my home. My in-laws have disney sheets for the girls, and I was so turned off when I read them -- they have the text of a "diary" entry from Cinderella, in which she says "now I know what true love is, last night I sat in a moonlit garden and met the most wonderful man in the world..." I just didn't think that my 3 year old should be idolizing these sentiments.

To me, true love is smiling and putting up when a baby pukes all over your necktie. I want my girls (and boys) to look more towards the sort of strong, practical that Kat described.

jawats said...

I find some aspects of your argument confusing or upsetting, which I have reproduced below:

1. I have some concern now that one of my children participate in a group where her project may be photographed or reproduced and used on the internet to make arguments in favor or against certain positions - unless of course, you asked the child or her parents to give permission to put that information on the web and discuss it as such, in which case I apologize.

2. The argument is this--kids under the age of reason don't understand the concept of an ad. Children take the information they see and process it as though it is fact. If a kid doesn't understand that an ad is an ad, they make the perfect customer. Ripe for the picking, children are suckered into thinking they want all kinds of unhealthy things.

Children also learn by association. If they see Ronald McDonald and remember Ronald McDonald, it's less because of the advertising than because parents have given then McDonalds so much and watched TV advertising so much that the children now associate Ronald McDonald with a basic necessity of life. When I consider how difficult it is to get my child to use simple manners, and how much reinforcement that takes, it boggles the mind as to how much exposure these kids must have.

In addition to Ronald McDonald, play lands abound, and those nifty little toys and dolls that come in the happy meals seal the deal.

Yes, but see my points above. I would think that the parents of the child in question have seriously abdicated parental responsibility in favor of letting Ronald McDonald raise their children.

My own children have had McDonalds - more than I would like, certainly - but "No" is absolute, and I am trying to raise them to understand the value of home-food, and generally the response, "But I am [or mommy is] cooking for us tonight, and it will be good" brings a smile and acquiescence.

And finally, though it's not an entirely sound argument, if we being banning ads based upon this argument, are there not so many more groups to whom we must ban ads, based upon lack of reason? And who will be the judge in that case?

Right Said Red said...

We Americans are so concerned about privacy. For the record, the child's answers were displayed publicly, for hundreds of people to view. Second, no name or picture appears, as I said in the post, I reproduced this copy.

Jawats--I must agree that actually banning ads aimed at young children would be difficult on a practical level. In addition, I also agree with you that the parents have the ultimate responsibility to protect their children from these things. But I find it disturbing that at least one out of every 3 children in my daugther's class named McDonald's on their answer sheet! So we are not talking about one set of parents that were "irresponsible." It just so happened that this particular child really liked McDonald's :-)

Finally, I find it telling that your own children have had McDonald's, "more than you would like," and don't you think that's a result of the ads...

My kids have never eaten at a McDonald's so they don't know what the golden arches stand for...and how I wish I could say the same thing about the Disney princesses! MaryAlice, I hear you, someday we should do an entire post about the dreaded Disney Princesses. B-Mama and Texas Mommy, this will be one time you are thankful for a house full of boys!

texas mommy said...

I'm assuming that the advertising we're talking about is the multi-media kind. My kids only watch movies, so they don't see tv ads. With Tivo, I'm shocked how little advertising I see myself.

I think we should also consider the ethics of marketing super-caffinated-buzzing drinks to preteens, etc. Advertising should be ethical even if aimed at kids and adults over the age of reason.

I think it is Stenson who talks about the NEED for absolute parental control when it comes to media. We are not trying to raise our kids in bubbles, but we must be vigilant about what they (and we) see in this day and age.

I will admit when we are gearing up for a long plane ride, I gladly spend an extra 50 cents for cheese crackers shaped like cars.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I've enjoyed reading your blog, though I've never taken the time to post. On this one, though, I do want to add a quick comment.

I second JaWats' concern re: posting a child's work, and I wouldn't dismiss it as a typical American obsession for privacy, but more for a genuine concern for offending this child and his/her parents. I can think of no other area where people are so sensitive than when their kids are attacked. Clearly, in this instance, your intention is not to attack a child's homework, but instead a mega-institution -- McD's. For a parent to stumble upon her child's homework online, even if it is a reproduction, where posters have liberally attacked her parenting style (i.e., use of McD's), will *inevitably* cause offense.

I genuinely appreciate that this blog is willing to confront some controversial topics -- e.g., I thought most of the discussion re: parenting philosophies was insightful and interesting. A key difference, though -- you were confronting (or in some people's opinions, attacking!) a general, adult-created philosophy. Posting a child's homework is a different ballgame, and regardless of the care you took to reproduce it as opposed to post a direct photo, I think the parent would be equally offended (as I'm sure you would be if you saw someone posting a reproduction of Gianna's homework on a website intended to spur critique and negative responses!). This obviously was not your intent, but I think it may be worth considering.

To comment on the intended topic (i.e., advertising for kids), I think Mary Alice has a sound solution -- limit your kids' tv watching. Will that mean they'll never be exposed to McD's and other commercial products? No. But is that a far more practical solution that asking the government to ban all advertising aimed at children? Yes!

Mary Alice said...

I think a point well taken, which applies to the McDonalds and the Disney is that in many households, often including my own, "the inmates are running the asylum." What I mean is that the point is well taken that the kids are probably not so into McD's because of the advertising but because of the exposure. Parenting is hard, hard work, and some parents need to take the "easy way out" in certain areas, which may include McDonalds on road trips or for a sanity saving lunch out sometimes. I have been trying to pack food when I go out so that we will not be caught needing to eat out, but sometimes I come up short, and with a gaggle of hungry, tired kids in tow sometimes McD is the most reasonable option. When we do eat at McDonalds, though, I almost always regret it.

It does seem like it is my job to be constantly saying no to my children, and I think that advertising makes that job a bit harder.

Also, just for amusement, a quick lunchtable poll of my children's favorite foods shows that while they usually are found eating yogurts and carrot sticks, if they had to fill out sheets like that I would be quickly embarrassed:

PT (6): Fettucinne Alfredo and to drink a root beer float made with chocolate soft serve ice cream (something he has never actually had). He states that his second favorite food is a cheeseburger.

HT (5): Pastina -- this is directly related to warm associations with her grandmother in a food is love sort of response, similar to mine, which is oatmeal.

MT (3): Pastina (copies whatever big sister says)

JT (3): Potatoes

Interesting to note that our fast food of choice, Pizza, was not mentioned by any of the kids, but they all do gobble it down.

Some kids choke under pressure, so one possibility is that the poor 4 year old in question had been to McD's the night before and that was just all he could think of.

Anonymous said...

There is an organzation that wants to do just this, called the Campaign for a commercial-free childhood. Check them out at www.commercialfreechildhood.org. As someone whose three kids have never had any fast-food, and who will not allow any Disney-related products into my home, I can tell you it is hard to do, but I believe that it is my responsibility as a parent to protect my child from such harmful influences (and no, we don't have a tv, either).

My kids do know what McDonald's is - there's one we drive by all the time - but they also know that we would never let them eat there. It's not only for their own health, but also because of the remarkably irresponsible environmental practices of the corporation. Same thing with Disney. As a busy homeschooling (and heavily cooking!) mom of several, I don't have time to do a lot of advocacy or charitable work, but I use my limited powers of boycotting wherever I can!


And I

Katherine said...

I seem to fall between people on this one.

First of all, I think the government sticks its nose in too much as it is so I don't want the government now trying to decide which commercials would be directed at which ages. The government would wear its underwear on its head if no one laughed.

Secondly, I don't think of McDonalds as intrinsically evil. Of course it isn't healthy. Neither is the chocolate souffle my husband makes for me on our anniversary but it is really good. If I list my favorite foods, I guarantee you several of them would be sinfully delicious but that doesn't mean I eat them often. I think it a shame that any child's favorite food would be McDs as there is so much better food out there, but just because it is their favorite doesn't mean they eat it often.

Third, as far as banning all commercials at children, I don't see all commercials as evil. We watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the morning and there are commercials for Movie Monday - today it was Finding Nemo. Would that count? What is the problem with it? DD sees commercials but because we buy so little or watch so little of what they are for, they don't phase her and if she asked for anything she saw and I didn't deem it appropriate, there is the simple, "No."

I really think it simply comes down to parents making sound judgments about what they expose their children to and what they give to their children.

As far as posting a child's homework, Red, I suggest simply rephrasing that it was an amalgam of the ones you saw: the point will remain but the argument will end.

I can't say as I would let my children play in any restaurant playground, but that is me.

We have severe restrictions on the Disney princesses at our home. DD has one shirt of three of the princesses and an Ariel ball, but I think that is where they end. We are a more Mr. Potato Head, Mickey, Winnie the Pooh, blocks family.

jawats said...

Actually, I doubt that it's a result of advertising. My children rarely watch TV with direct advertising (though, getting a "Dora" toothbrush and liking it would be considered indirect - see "Disney"), since we select DVDs and shows carefully, and then those that are from TV are DVR'ed, and we go past the ads. They might recognize an advertisement from the name said by a voice from the screen, but not from the gimmicks associated with it.

Perhaps, as suggested by some commentators, one could draw a line between enjoyment / association - "I like Dora / Nemo / etc., and therefore, I'd like a t-shirt associated with that" - though it's commercialization, it's also association with liked qualities (Dora is smart, funny, etc.), and inordinate desire, where the commercial is creating a false need in the child for some sort of item / food.

So, therefore, someone wearing a t-shirt with a picture of, say, Shakespeare on it, would be less objectionable than buying McDonald's cheeseburgers not because of hunger, but because of inordinate desire.

Not an easy distinction to make, I think, but with care, one that could be made. The concern would be to avoid what I think is the trap of "it's commercial / capitalistic and therefore is presumptively bad."

Bethany said...

I have to say I agree with the comments made. I do believe that there is way too much advertising directed at children. I feel that the mega-conglomerates need to have stronger ethical standards when marketing to young children.

I also believe that it is a primary responsibility of the parent to limit their children's exposure to the advertising as well as limiting their ability to be impractical consumers at such young ages. In our house, movies on DVD and PBSkids are the only thing the children are allowed to watch, except on special occasions, when there is a family movie on a Friday evening. I have discovered that when the boys go to visit relatives and get exposed to t.v. commercials they lose the ability to handle being told "no!" when asking, nay, demanding for the latest toy or kids meal.

Kat said...

C is 4 years old and usually we stick to PBS Kids and the occasional Disney channel show. However, we do watch the Animal channel (don't know what it's called) once in a while, and the thing I like the least about it is that there are actual commercials on it. He's transfixed by them - I don't know if he even grasps what's being advertised half the time, but I don't like the glazed-over look in his eyes when he watches them! I agree with TM - I much prefer videos because then I know exactly what he's watching, and how long he's watching for - but he has seen some commercials. I don't think he's ever seen a McD commercial, though...

As parents, we're going to be saying "No" to things more than we would like over the course of our children's lives, whether it be to McDonald's or to the Thomas trains at the Barnes and Noble! Stores know how to advertise to children, and as maddening as it is to us as parents, I think that it's healthy for our kids to learn that they can't just buy anything that they want.

On that note, what answers have you all found helpful when trying to explain to your children why you are not going to buy something for them. I usually say, "We need to be grateful for what we already have" or "We can't just buy things whenever we want them, we have to work hard for them," but the response is less than stellar sometimes :)

Katherine said...

Kat,

My daughter is still at the age where distraction works well: out of sight, out of mind.

But, if I had to explain it to her I would either explain why something was not good for her or why she didn't need it and it was better to spend money elsewhere or save it.

Kat said...

Thanks for responding, Katherine! I definitely try to explain to C why we don't buy something, but he's a big negotiator so he's always trying to come up with arguments to refute what I just explained :) Someday when he's on the debate team this will be a great skill, but for now it can be very frustrating! It can also be embarrassing when we're in public or at someone else's house!

texas mommy said...

Kat--

I don't do well with negotiating with a 2.5 year old. We have adopted MaryAlice's fantastic suggestion about responding with, "Yes, Mama" when something is said. So if Dash wants something and I say no and give a very brief explanation (dinner is in half an hour, we don't need it, etc), he has the choice of responding with, "Yes, Mama," or getting time out. This way I know he has heard me, whether or not he likes the response. He will on occasion have a toddler melt-down, and that is ok. I'm honestly not embarrared anymore, because I know my response now is with the goal of raising a little saint, not just getting through the day.

AWOL Mommy said...

On a totally non-combative, feisty, but related nonetheless, note... Red, can you explain a tad bit more about this homeschooling co-op? We are about to relocate to an Army base in the middle of Europe and I have toyed with starting some sort of co-op to introduce my potentially home-schooled kids to others. My questions are: who facilitates, who watches infants, etc. Enlighten me, please

B-Mama said...

Okay, I'm going to stir the pot here and say that sometimes we, parents, get all fussed up about something as silly as fast food! Yes, I know it is representative of a bigger, media monster, but...

I think the bigger deal we make of it, the more likely our children are to want it. My children have eaten McD's and will still continue to eat it. It is not regular; it is not expected. But it happens.

And when they ask for it, we simply say, "No." End of story.

The bottomline is that our children are going to grow up in a world FILLED with media confusion. While we can do our best to shelter them from harm, they need to learn to choose healthier, better options for themselves. It is my responsibility as their parent to help them in this path... Taking them to McDonald's on occasion, merely teaches them that "indulgence" is an occasional thing. We can't have it all the time and we don't.

Juris Mater said...

B-mama, I second your sentiments. I think fast food is fun sometimes. When my husband has a late night of work, the kids and I go to Wendy's for individual packages of value chicken nuggets for the kids and a value Frosty to share, and I say every single time that it was the best $5 I've spent on food all week. Ideally our home is fun and vibrant, and our chatty sit-down family dinners are the norm, so this fun occasional indulgence in overly commercialized food isn't much of a threat on the whole.

On to the Disney princesses... I like them for my kids, the classic ones that is. We steer away from Jasmine and Tinkerbell who show too much skin and always have seductive facial expressions and body language. But my kids have a lot of fun pretending to dance together at the ball, talking about romance and dreams coming true, and (Bella) dressing up in princess costumes. Romance, princesses, balls, dress-up, imagination and fantasy, etc are good things I think. And I'm mildly obsessed with young kids having their genders affirmed... in short, I'd rather Bella talk about having a crush on a handsome prince at age 3 than not know who she's supposed to have a crush on when she gets old enough to become susceptible to the rampant and pernicious notion of gender fluidity. I want her to love St. Therese and St. Bernadette and the girl saints much more, but the princesses constitute good clean fun in my book, and I feel like there are bigger battles to fight. But maybe you anti-Disney princess folks know something I don't, or maybe they're a truly bad influence on slightly older kids?

Kat said...

Two funny tidbits to share:

1) I just heard a woman on TV say, "The reason that people love McD so much is the uniformity. No matter where you go all over the world, you know pretty much what to expect." Is it just me, or does this sound strangely similar to a way that one could describe our wonderful Catholic church?? I've often said to people that I love going to Mass all over the world because I know that no matter where I am, the same readings are being read and the same Eucharist is being celebrated. Red, I thought you would find this ironic :)

2) Today, C quoted a line from a commercial - I couldn't believe it, he's never done that before! He said, "Whatever's inside that oven, it must be AMAZING" - he was complementing the dinner that I had made for him, but borrowing a line from an oven commercial. Clever boy, he made me laugh :) But from now on, I'm turning off the TV when commercials come on, he's got way too good of a memory!

Maria said...

I would much, MUCH rather use any political captial I could muster to crack down on the soft porn that makes up a sizeable majority of most tv advertizing than worry about selling french fries to kids. Porn - serious evil. French fries - not so evil.

Mary Alice said...

Juris Mater, those are good points, for some reason the sheets seemed just too old for my little girls, but perhaps, as with fast food, this is a matter of judicious parental moderation. I had been trying to reconcile this princess ban with the fact that I am actually longing to take my kids to disney world!

Just a few things, though: Ariel, in addition to being scantily clad, rebels against her father, is rude about it, and gets away with it. In the famous song "part of that world" she longs to live in a world where they don't reprimand their daughters. She sneaks away from her chaperone, misses the family concert she was supposed to be singing in and makes a deal with an evil force (ursula the sea witch) in order to get what she wants.

Too bad she is my children's favorite -- and why, not because of advertising, but because long before they had even seen the movie, a slightly older girl declared Ariel her favorite and Holly, always one to be cool, caught on immediately. I had never seen the movie either, but when I did see it I was sort of shocked.

Also, it is just starting to bug me about these princesses that they are everywhere. We are definately winding up with too much mass market stuff in our house because the girls get notebooks, playing cards, everything princess.

As far as imagination, I think my girls are actually less creative when they are dressing up disney than when they are doing other, non-trademarked dress ups, where they make up the stories themselves.

Katherine said...

Juris Mater, Mary Alice:

In general I don't have anything against the Disney Princesses (and for the record, Tinker Bell was not originally a princess...Disney made her into one relatively recently so she could be in the line which, as someone who loves books, drives me nuts!). It is just that, as Mary Alice said, they are everywhere and on everything.

Just food for thought: I believe in the original Hans Christian Anderson The Little Mermaid, the mermaid wants to become human because only humans have immortal souls. It might be worthwhile to read the original story (I have not done so yet but it is on my to-read list) and see if there isn't a way to redeem Ariel a bit?

Juris Mater said...

MaryAlice, totally agreed about Ariel. I forgot about her because she hasn't come up that much in our house, but she's so lousy, especially her attitude. My favorite is the scene on the beach where Ariel is wet, shell-bikini-clad, and lying down half on top of Prince Eric to caress him as he awakens. A far cry from the seven dwarves keeping a kneeling 24/7 prayer vigil beside elegantly-clad, poisoned Snow White laying on a bed of roses in the forest.

Katherine, great idea for redeeming the Little Mermaid.

Right Said Red said...

Kat,

You said, "No matter where you go all over the world, you know pretty much what to expect." Is it just me, or does this sound strangely similar to a way that one could describe our wonderful Catholic church??"

This could be your first ever blasphemous comment ;-)

But seriously, with the liturgy uniformity protects the divine from banal human interference. In fast food, uniformity creates dumbed down jobs that enable gigantic corporations to hire an uneducated workforce that never has the opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to dig out of their miserable minimum wage job. Not to mention McDonald's has actually burned down their own resturants to prevent these poor workers from unionizing. Uniformity can be good, but not when it comes to Mickey D's.

Don't get me wrong, I do buy fast food on occasion, but I choose pizza or burgers from a local shop, where the workers actually acquire some minimal skill and are treated as more than just a cog in the machine. In addition, when I go into my local pizza parlor, I don't have to stare at 50,000 different advertisements, many of them for those wonderful Disney princesses.

And when traveling, we appreciate the sense of adventure in seeking out a local deli or pizza shop. Mickey D's is truly a last resort.

Do I sound like a liberal or what?

Anonymous said...

I found "Grim Tales" from FIRST THINGS very helpful in distinguishing between the importance of fairy tales --yes, girls love princesses--and Disney corruption. It affects children's imaginations and use of language and images deeply. I think you moms would love the article (http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2664&var_recherche=fairy+tales). Also, I refer to all these things--McDonalds, Disney, et cetera--as "crap." (Don't mean to offend.) Sometimes we have to go to McD's on car trips. But my kids know what I think of it. I've never let them see Disney (except for original Winnie the Pooh movie and Mary Poppins) because of the points made by the First Thngs writer. You can see it even on the level of Winnie the Pooh. We have read AA Milne to our children and each one has pointed out how much better the books are--"more nuanced and interesting," my eldest told me. Et cetera. One day my children were in Eckerd's with their aunt. And the 4-year-old, seeing a bunch of Disney movies, said loudly, "Oh, look, Auntie Helen, they sell crap here!!" Everyone laughed! But what a great lesson. They aren't in a bubble, but they clearly know what it's worth. SEEING this stuff really shapes their imaginations negatively as opposed to HEARING the stories. For example, I am holding off on the LIttle House DVDs (they were a gift) until I've had the chance to read the books to every one of my children. They watch DVDs, but only old musicals (Annie Get Your Gun, Sound of Music, et cetera).

Kat said...

Just to clear up any misunderstanding, I wasn't trying to compare McD to the Church, just pointing out the irony in the comment that I had just heard on TV :)

Mary Alice said...

I have to admit, the uniformity is a big selling point for me -- perhaps I am less adventurous than Red, but recently I chose McD's because the local pizza joint on the same block was a bit scary looking. Because of this experience, however, I have been trying hard to plan our meals when we are out so that we will not be caught short and have to go with the last resort.

We recently had a long roundtrip drive to Richmond, and we managed without fast food.

I'm sure Red remembers the Princeton religion class in which my husband compared the Mass to bud light, for the same reasons.

Kat said...

Thanks, MA, for trying to make me feel better about my near brush with blasphemy ;)

Maria said...

There seem to be two different issues here. First, how much do we as a family want to participate in fast food and mass merchandized stuff. I think this is a very healthy debate.

However, the point of the post seemed to be banning advertising aimed at children through public policy initiatives. I'm very leery of these types of initiatives and wouldn't waste political capital on it when there are much more pressing issues.

Big Daddy, Mary Alice's husband, said...

Anonymous, thanks for suggesting the First Things article. It has given me a lot to think about.

Mary Alice said...

I think that there is an interesting distinction to be made between advertising and message based marketing. In Germany, there is a popular clothing company which is using Nazi symbolism. This has sparked protests in part because it is bringing neo-Nazi extremism into the mainstream culture. Some stadiums have banned sports fans from wearing these t-shirts, in theory because fights have begun, but there are now violent protests outside shops and the right is complaining that there are free speech issues.

You can read more here:

article

Kids are so easily influenced by both the media and peer groups, and it is the constant exposure that becomes a difficult fight, but the commenters who have said that we, as parents, need to tell the truth and say "no" to things that are bad for our children, even if they are aggressively marketed. In fact, we need to do this so that our children will learn to fight these battles themselves soon enough.

JesusThroughMary said...

"No matter where you go all over the world, you know pretty much what to expect." Is it just me, or does this sound strangely similar to a way that one could describe our wonderful Catholic church?

If only that were true.

Mary Alice said...

The recent conversation about McDonalds and Disney has gotten me think that for our children, as for ourselves, it is helpful to promote moderation, and that we seem to live in a world that is not friendly to moderation. Some of the mothers commented that they enjoy a milkshake and box of chicken from time to time. I myself adore a trip to the local fast food joint, Stewarts, which has a 1950's era carside service (alas, no roller skates, though). The food at Stewarts tastes better than McD's, but I doubt it is much better for you. It also comes without toys, which is usually helpful. Once I move closer to Stewarts, I am going to have to be careful to keep it in moderation, I would happily eat there weekly or more often! This would be bad for our bodies and our budget.

I think that the same applies to the Disney princess phenomenon. It is something to remember that Walt himself was taking classic stories and putting them on the big screen, families saw them once, perhaps twice. I remember when I was a little girl and it was a huge deal that Snow White was re-released to the theater.

The DVD player together with extreme marketing have made these princesses a much different monster. The same holds with Thomas the train -- these are nice stories, weekly PBS shows, and, eventually, a line of toy trains. Now, as Kat points out, when we go to Barnes and Noble we find whole aisle devoted to Thomas, Disney and other marketed tie-in products that have little to do with literature.

My girls love a book called Fancy Nancy, which they read often with my Mother-in-law. I like the book, too, but now Fancy Nancy is also becoming a franchise, with calendars, stickers, several follow up books, etc.

The money in these products goes into the marketing, not into the product itself. My mother often used to tell me, they do not have to put cartoons on Raisin Bran because people buy it because it is good. I learned through experience that you cannot say the same of Ghostbusters cereal, with green marshmallow slimers.

k said...

I am going to wade in here as someone who has researched and written (and you could easily argue whether it was intelligently or not) on the subject of branding/marketing in children's literature and toys.

To keep this brief the fears and some state facts are this:
1: Exposure to disney versions of books, all branded books (thomas, dora, etc.) is probably not the end of the world but it DOES mean that it is less time that your child is interacting with books and toys that are (and I don't think I'm going out on a limb here) better quality, more imaginative, and better written.

2: Some studies have suggested that when a child is inundated with single image of an object (thomas AS train, disney's snow white AS princess) then they begin to loose the ability to visualize that object as anything other then the branded version. Every train becomes thomas, every princess Ariel.

I don't know about you, but that freaks me out. What is even scarier to think about, is how it begins to limit our choices.

When the children's book industry is being rapidly bought out by larger media conglomerates and the line between movie/tv show/book/merchandise becomes instantaneously blurred (and we are there now). Less and less money and space is being spent on allowing for new, independent creative works to enter the marketplace.

As more and more independent bookstores and toystores are closed, there are becoming less places who will even bother to purchase those selections that are "unbranded".

Sorry to be the pessimist, I think there are wonderful books and toys out there, but it worries me to see the trends. And I do think our dollar vote counts in this instance.

Sorry if that is not all coherent, I will happily chat more about this if it needs clarifying (alice can tell you, I will talk all day on the subject). As a former publishing employee, former independent toy/bookstore employee and future librarian this is sort of my hot-button issue.

Right Said Red said...

K,

Loved your comment. If you want to expand on it a bit, and e-mail me, I'd love to post it on the blog so that it isn't hidden in the comments. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Red

JesusThroughMary said...

Something in your post escaped my notice until now:

"Did you know that 96% of school age children recognize Ronald McDonald? Only Santa Claus ranks higher."

Are you prepared to admit, then, that the only thing more evil than McDonald's is Santa Claus? The marketing machine of Big Yule is much larger and more insidious than that of Big Grease.