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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Obamas stand up to marketing to children

Check out this editorial by Susan Linn from the latest CCFC (Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood) newsletter, called Protecting the First Daughters (and Other Kids, Too).

When the Ty Company celebrated Barack Obama's inauguration by exploiting his daughters, the First Parents were understandably outraged. The company launched two new African American dolls named "Sweet Sasha" and "Marvelous Malia," laughably denying that they had any connection to the real Obama children. Michele Obama issued a powerful statement about the dolls saying, "We believe it is inappropriate to use young, private citizens for marketing purposes."

The Obama's laudable effort to protect their girls from commercial exploitation is going to be an uphill struggle. They were already publicly urged to appear on the hit Disney show, Hannah Montana. The press refers to them as "first tweens," a marketing demographic dumping ground for children ranging in age from 6 to 14-and the Washington Post has called them "fashion icons."

Before his inauguration, President Obama wrote a public letter to his daughters sharing his hopes for them and, by extension, his hopes for all of the children in America. President Obama clearly sees his daughters as individuals, but can also see "every child" in them. I'm hoping this is one of those times.

While the form of their exploitation might be unique, the Obama girls are not alone. Corporate America routinely uses young private citizens for marketing purposes. They might not be turned into dolls, but they are exploited as research tools and as a vast, unpaid sales force. Companies like The Girls Intelligence Agency exploit children's friendships by conducting market research during pajama parties. Nickelodeon and Toys R Us, among others, have conducted market research in elementary schools. In the name of Internet safety, market research firms track children's online activities for their corporate clients. Popular social networking websites like Webkinz and routinely encourage young users to reel in their friends through viral marketing.

What differentiates the Obamas from other parents struggling to protect their children is that the President actually has the power to take on Corporate America. As a first step, he could call on Congress to reauthorize the Federal Trade Commission's capacity to regulate commercial access to children, and repair the damage done when it was stripped of much of its power at the dawn of the Reagan era. As his administration reclaims the right of government to set limits on the market, I hope he remembers his children-and other people's children as well.

I would just like to add that these dolls were created by Ty, the same company that makes the Ty Girlz Dolls that I blogged about last year...'nuff said.

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