Friday, March 14, 2008

Products being advertised in children's books

I'm on the mailing list of Commercial Alert, whose mission is "to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy." I get very little mail from them, actually, but did get something interesting today:

HarperCollins Children's Books recently announced plans to publish a new series of books targeted at 8- to 12-year-olds featuring a character called "Mackenzie Blue."

Although touted by the publisher for teaching kids about protecting the environment and promoting global understanding, the Mackenzie Blue series actually aims to be a vehicle for delivering commercial messages, through product-placement hidden advertisements, product tie-ins, and affiliated multi-media corporate sponsorships. The author of the series, Tina Wells, is chief executive of Buzz Marketing Group, which specializes in marketing to children and adolescents.

Book publishers should not be exploiting children for commercial gain. Books should educate and entertain children - not encourage them to buy a particular brand of shoe or soft drink.

Please click here to tell HarperCollins not to publish "Mackenzie Blue" unless all product placements and tie-ins with external advertisers are removed.
Well, when I read the press release which the email links to, I did not see any mention of product placing directly within the books. It just seemed to me that the marketing to go along with the books would be ala Hannah Montana; merchandising pushed to the max. And while I don't condone that, as homeschoolers it is easy enough to protect my kids from it.

So, before I shot a letter off to HarperCollins, I did a google search on "Mackenzie Blue". Surprisingly, the top response was for a rock band. I checked out their website and wrote them an email letting them know that their name is being used and they might want to look into it.

I then waded through the myriad of listings which simply spewed out the press release, and after following through on many links, did eventually find a page which talks about product placement within the stories themselves. From The New York Times (registration required to follow the link and read the article in its entirety):
In “Mackenzie Blue,”... a new series aimed at 8- to 12-year-old girls from HarperCollins Children’s Books, product placement is very much a part of the plan. Tina Wells, chief executive of Buzz Marketing Group, which advises consumer product companies on how to sell to teenagers and preteenagers, will herself be the author of titles in the series filled with references to brands. She plans to offer the companies that make them the chance to sponsor the books.

... Susan Katz, publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, said she was not concerned about a possible backlash against corporate sponsorship in books aimed at such a young audience. “If you look at Web sites, general media or television, corporate sponsorship or some sort of advertising is totally embedded in the world that tweens live in,” Ms. Katz said. “It gives us another opportunity for authenticity.”
So basically the idea is that it's out there anyway, so why shouldn't HarperCollins profit from it too?

The woman who is writing this book is not even a writer, she is chief executive of a marketing group!

I did actually go back to Commercial alert, and send my email off to HarperCollins, after altering the wording of the "form letter" to include the fact that I am a homeschooler and plan to advertise this over-the-top marketing to every homeschooler I could get to listen. So please, email HarperCollins, or sign up with Commercial Alert to use their simple form letter, but please do let these vultures know we are not surrendering our kids so easily. Then be sure to spread the word to all of your homeschool groups so they can write too. As homeschoolers we are the conscientious ones; we are the ones who actively work to protect our children.

I always thought that as a homeschooler it is a little easier for me to protect my kids from mainstream marketing, but the truth is, had I not gotten this email from Commercial Alert, I would never have known that this is a threat. It's getting so exhausting to stay a step ahead of all the predators out there!

Here is a link to an article I found worth reading regarding this emerging problem.