Sunday, May 22, 2005

When my stepson, Nate, was three, he had no interest in watching t.v.--except for the ads. Those were short and had lots of action, so he'd stand still long enough for ads and then run off to play.
At the Media Reform conference, Christy Glaubke of Children Now, accused commercial t.v. of marinating the brains of our children in advertising: 40,000 ads a year are directed to children under eight. It's an insidious form of child abuse and about to become even more pernicious with the advent of interactive advertising. This latest development, already on the internet, will soon be coming to a t.v. set near you.
It disguises itself as a game, but with a given product, say Lifesavers, displayed at every turn of the game. If, for example, the player makes a mistake, he is directed to go back a screen and read an explanation, which will be conveniently printed inside a Lifesaver. Some of these games also enable advertisers to collect personal information on the kids that play.
The FCC recently unanimously passed rules aimed at protecting children as t.v. networks change from analog to digital formats. What the specifics of those rules are, Glaubke did not say, but she did mention that children's advocacy groups are lobbying the FCC to mandate more information to help parents locate better quality programs and to ban interactive ads.
Since young children are too naive to recognize the persuasive intent of ads or even to distinguish ads from programs, they need and deserve protection. For example, most ads aimed at children are for junk food. It doesn't seem coincidental that child obesity is up 300 percent in the last thirty years. Naturally, though, advertisers won't back off unless they're forced to. After all, children influence $500 billion in purchases in this country every year. They may not have much cash in their pockets, but they have something almost as useful as currency--the nag factor.
As the change from analog to digital communications picks up steam in the near future, progressives need to oppose these cunning interactive ads. We'll need to lobby the FCC to ban these branded environments for children, write op-ed pieces, and create policy briefs to be presented to policymakers and media industry leaders.
In other words, we'll need to make a lot of noise. And here's a fight where conservative parents may well want to join us. That's good. When three million people, including many conservatives, lobbied the FCC last year to protest new rules allowing more conglomeration, we stopped it. The board members didn't think there were three million people in this country who even knew the FCC existed. Who would have believed that such a geeky topic as FCC rules changes would attract such widespread attention? Internet communications drove that protest, and they can do so again.


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