CSPI Ad Targets Nickelodeon Over Kids’ Marketing

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WASHINGTON—The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) ratcheted up its assault on Nickelodeon and parent company Viacom, Inc., with a new ad slamming the media company for allowing characters from its popular television shows, such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants, to appear on snack food packaging targeted toward children.

CSPI took out a full-page “wanted" ad in The Hollywood Reporter that features mug shots of an unshaven and disheveled SpongeBob SquarePants, whom the ad warns should be approached with caution: he may be armed with nutritionally dangerous foods. The ad contents Nickelodeon is “wanted" for impersonating a responsible media company, while it actually markets junk-food and obesity to children.

"Nickelodeon prides itself on responsible programming for children, but what about its advertising?" asked CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Nickelodeon is lagging behind companies like Disney when it comes to supporting parents and protecting kids from junk-food marketing."

The ad also was sponsored by Berkeley Media Studies Group, Center for Digital Democracy, Children Now, Prevention Institute, and Voices for America's Children. Funding for the ad was provided by The California Endowment.

On Dec. 3, 2012, CSPI sent a letter to Viacom President and CEO Philippe Dauman and Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami urging the company to join the Council for Better Business Bureaus' Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a self-regulatory group that promotes a baseline set of standards for food marketing to young children. The company could go even farther by implementing the food marketing guidelines proposed by the Interagency Working Group, a federal task force that in 2011 proposed draft non-binding standards.

In June 2012, The Walt Disney Company introduced new standards for food advertising on programming targeting kids and families that encourages more fruit and vegetable consumption, limits calories and reduces saturated fat, sodium and sugar. The new initiative builds on the company’s 2006 landmark nutrition guidelines that stipulated promotions aimed at children 12 years old and under—most notably for films—would feature only healthier food and beverage products.

Under Disney’s new standards, all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored or promoted on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney and Disney-owned online destinations oriented to families with younger children will be required by 2015 to meet Disney’s nutrition guidelines that are aligned to federal standards, promote fruit and vegetable consumption and call for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

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