Consumer advocates are at it again ($$$ req'd):
Two advocacy groups and four Massachusetts parents yesterday sent letters to Sumner Redstone, Viacom's chairman and chief executive, and to James Jenness, CEO of Kellogg, notifying them of their intent to file suit in Massachusetts State Court in Boston under state consumer-protection legislation. The letter accuses the companies of directly harming kids' health by marketing food of "poor nutritional quality" using characters such as Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants. Massachusetts law requires that parties be notified 30 days before a suit is filed.
The prospective plaintiffs in the suit -- the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood and four parents -- aren't taking issue with the products themselves, but rather with the advertising of the products to children, which the letter calls inherently unfair and deceptive.
The prospective plaintiffs are seeking $25 for each time a child under 8 sees an ad for a nutritionally poor food on Nickelodeon or in another Viacom medium. (Violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act rewards damages of $25.) The suit also seeks damages for each time a child sees an ad for a nutritionally poor Kellogg product during children's programming on any media, or simply sees a Kellogg package with a Nickelodeon character on the box.
CSPI says its primary goal isn't monetary damages, but rather an injunction against marketing and promotional tie-ins using Nickelodeon characters.
Why stop there? There are plenty of cartoon characters hawking this and that: Dig 'em the Frog (Sugar Smacks) and Count Chocula are two examples.
The prospective plaintiffs' letter says that ads for snack foods, cereal and other products aimed at children are inherently deceptive and unfair to kids under 8 who can't distinguish between ads and content. Stephen Gardner, director of litigation for CSPI, a frequent food-industry critic, said in the letter that the plaintiffs particularly object to targeting young children. "They could run these ads on 'Desperate Housewives' and we wouldn't have a problem," he said. "But they are running them on programs that target children as young as two. If that isn't unfair, I don't know what is."
Well, one thing that is definitely unfair is using the legal system to block the advertising of a legal product produced by a legal business that employs people (voluntarily - on both counts) legally. I'm sorry that the activists are annoyed by the advertising and it's too bad that they don't think other parents are smart enough to make up their own minds about what and what not to let their kids eat.
The American Psychological Association says before age 8, children don't understand the persuasive intent of advertising. CSPI also alleges the ads are unfair to parents, because they have to counter the pestering of their children to buy the products.
Or they can choose to watch other channels or do something else. Perhaps we should outlaw the toy aisle in the local Walgreens. Each time I visit the drug store, the Powerkids run to the toy aisle and begin pestering me about this and that. I find that annoying. Each time we go to Buffalo Wild Wings, the Powerkids pester me about playing the various video games they have there. I find that annoying too. But I also know how to and am not afraid to say "no" and to tell my kids, nicely, why I am saying "no."
Kip Esquire has many other thoughts here.