- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2001

"You deserve a break today."
"Have it your way."
"Obey your thirst."
"Got the urge?"
"Just do it."
Are these slogans meant for adults? Think again. Some of Americas biggest companies are aiming such advertisements toward very young children.
"The central message of the ads is that its about you — what you want, when you want it, right now — and about buying things to make yourself feel good and give your life meaning," said Enola G. Aird, director of the Motherhood Project at the Institute for American Values (IAV) in New York City.
"That, in our view, is antithetical to the value system that you need in order to raise good, healthy children who are able to contribute to democratic life."
At a symposium in New York on Wednesday, Mrs. Aird and more than 100 other "rebel mothers" rolled out their own marketing campaign.
They issued a "Mothers Statement to Advertisers," opened a Web site at www.rebelmothers.org and announced their intentions to meet with advertisers and trade groups to discuss their "Mothers Code for Advertisers."
The six-point code calls for an end to ads that target children ages 8 and younger; product placements in movies aimed at children; and advertising, market research and marketing in schools, including high schools.

Seeking new tone

The code also calls for a new tone in ads — one that encourages children and teens to think about self-control, empathy, moderation and charity instead of "me first, now."
"Were not going after individual people or advertising," said Mrs. Aird, the mother of two teens and wife of Stephen Carter, author of "The Culture of Disbelief."
"Were going after an ethos in advertising and marketing that is promoting a certain world view. If every man is out for himself, thats not a community," she said. "In a good society, its all about you, but its also about us — you in relation to the rest of us — and us working together to do things in a peaceful, civil way."
Last year, Mrs. Aird taped a soft-drink ad on television that showed a young black male dressed in street clothes. As the youth walked toward the camera, the viewer saw the phrase "Make 7" on the front of his shirt. As the youth walked away, viewers saw the phrase "Up Yours" on the back.
"Why do we always have to go to the bottom in the way we treat each other?" she asked. "Were not humorless people here. Were saying somethings wrong here."
An advertising executive who asked not to be named told The Washington Times that parents and consumers have a recourse if they find ads offensive.
"The network can decide to pull the ad," the executive said, recalling how an athletic-shoe ad that showed a man with a chainsaw chasing a young, female runner was yanked after a few airings.
"The advertiser will show an ad, but if the networks get calls from their viewers, they can choose not to run it."

Brand loyalty is goal

A bigger problem is the targeting of young children to become future brand-loyal consumers.
To advertisers, "kids arent kids, theyre demographics," said Dr. Michael Brody, chairman of the media and television committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
"Children are not small adults. They dont understand the difference between commercials and programming," he said. But since advertisers realized that loyalty to a brand starts early, "they are going for young and younger audiences."
David Blankenhorn, IAV president, noted that in the late 1970s, under President Carter, the Federal Trade Commission "came close to concluding that advertising to preschoolers was inherently exploitative and that there was 'no good ad for this age group."
"We think that issue needs to be revisited," he said.
Mary Hilton, director of public affairs at the American Advertising Federation, said the AAF did not yet have a response to the mothers statement but noted, "we are always open to dialoguing.
"The AAF has a long history of working with groups and being supportive of ways the public can be comfortable with advertising and children. This is certainly not a new subject," she said.

Industry principles

The AAF already has established advertising principles, calling for high standards of truth and decency.
"We dont have anything specifically on advertising to children, but we feel that these principles apply across the board," Ms. Hilton said.
The advertising industry has been praised as "the best regulated industry ever because we are self-regulated," she added.
"Our clients are the public in many ways, and we have to make sure they are comfortable with what we are doing. That causes great self-regulation and it works. We are no strangers to, nor do we frown upon, anyone bringing up their concerns."
Ruth Wooden, former president of the Advertising Council, who spoke at the IAV symposium Wednesday, also struck a conciliatory note.
"Its time for these two groups to search for common ground," said Ms. Wooden, now the president of the National Parenting Association.
"I think the code has lots of reasonable requests in it, and I believe that if there is an opportunity for a constructive dialogue, many advertisers will agree with many parts of the code," she said.
"I just hope that there will be enough time and space for these groups to meet," she said, adding that past attempts to talk about children and advertising had been "set up very confrontationally."

'Revolt taking hold

Meanwhile, it looks as if the "the revolt against the commercial culture is taking hold and gaining strength," said Gary Ruskin, director of Commercial Alert, a group founded in 1998 by Ralph Nader to combat commercial exploitation of children.
"Corporate America has a major values problem," he said. "Parents across the country are mad, mad, mad about the incessant marketing of violent and sexually suggestive entertainment and video games, alcohol, tobacco, junk food, gambling and the promotion of materialism, addiction, hedonism and antisocial behavior."
Commercial Alert, which supports the mothers report, urges parents to oppose in-school advertising, turn off the TV, talk to their children and find ways to "put the community first."
Among the signers of the report are Ann Crittenden, author of "The Price of Motherhood," Childrens Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, professor Jean Bethke Elshtain of University of Chicago Divinity School, professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School, the Rev. Eileen W. Lindner, deputy general secretary of the National Council of Churches, Avance Inc. President Gloria G. Rodriguez and radio talk-show host Janet Parshall.
Supporters include Robert N. Bellah, University of California-Berkeley professor emeritus and co-author of "Habits of the Heart," and Alvin Poussaint, director of the Judge Baker Childrens Media Center at Harvard University.


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