February 27, 2021

Media Decoder: Tooth Fairy Site Angers Anti-Commercialism Group

LOS ANGELES — The Real Tooth Fairies have encountered a pair of fangs.

The advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood typically goes after the likes of Disney and McDonald’s, but its newest crusade centers on an unusually tiny company: TheRealToothFairies.com.

Aimed at girls 5 to 10 years old, the site sells themed merchandise (lost tooth organizer, $12.99) and offers games meant to promote kindness. For a fee, users can enter a role-playing world.

In a July 16 news release and Huffington Post column, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Susan Linn, criticized the Web company for what she termed its “sexualized” fairies, whom she found to be “largely preoccupied with appearance, shopping, boyfriends — and leg hair!”

Ms. Linn argued that exploiting a childhood institution was particularly crass.

But what made her really angry was an investor video she discovered in the recesses of the Web.

Prepared by the start-up for nonpublic use, the video discusses revenue opportunities associated with lost teeth, emphasizing the number of baby teeth that girls lose annually, about 200 million. “And biology guarantees that will never stop,” a voice says.

TheRealToothFairies.com had YouTube remove the video, and hoped to move on. The site’s founder, Marilyn Bollinger, a North Carolina social worker and children’s book author, did not want to discuss the video when reached by telephone.

“Our focus is on the positive,” she said. “We have such a sweet, sweet brand. We hear from parents that we’re making a lot of happy memories.”

But moving on can be difficult in the Internet age.

Last week, Ms. Linn kept up the attack on Twitter and Facebook, nudging bloggers and the news media to pay attention. She noted, for instance, that a shorter version of the video appears on the investment site Gust.com.

Her campaign might seem akin to shooting a flea with a cannon. Ms. Linn conceded that it was unusual for her organization to go after a start-up, but she said that the site was focused on growth, and that the stature of the people involved with it required her to take the site seriously.

Ms. Bollinger’s husband, Howard, a former Hasbro executive who is the start-up’s chief financial officer, and Paul Yanover, a former Disney executive and now president of Fandango.com, appeared in the video.

A spokesman for Mr. Yanover said he only had a brief consulting role and no longer had anything to do with the site.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/business/media/outcry-against-a-tooth-fairy-web-site.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Al Neuharth, Executive Who Built Gannett and USA Today, Is Dead at 89

USA Today announced his death. Family members said the cause was complications of a recent fall.

Mr. Neuharth’s influence on American journalism extended well beyond the 93 daily newspapers he amassed for Gannett. USA Today’s pioneering use of bright colors and bite-size articles in the early 1980s was mimicked by newspapers across the country seeking to compete with television. His business model, characterized by stripped-down costs and generous margins, reshaped the industry, tilting the balance between profits and public service and turning Gannett into a darling of Wall Street.

Mr. Neuharth’s admirers applauded him for rethinking the American newspaper and streamlining the business in a way that would make print media more nimble and competitive in the Internet age.

“Neuharth’s innovations had a revolutionary impact,” said Bill Kovach, former editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and founding chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. “Virtually no newspaper in the country, nor many around the world, have not been deeply affected by USA Today in terms of look, color, graphics and brevity.”

But his critics said the cost-cutting he championed was draconian and would only dumb down journalism and hasten the industry’s decline. They mocked USA Today as “McPaper” and said Mr. Neuharth’s editorial approach — emphasizing what readers wanted over what editors thought was important — resulted in a profusion of fluff.

Yet Mr. Neuharth’s emphasis on lifestyle coverage was also credited with helping to broaden the definition of news, to include cultural trends and health and consumer issues. “We give the readers what they want because we are in the business of selling news,” he told The New York Times in 1979. “If we meet the wants of an audience in a community, as we try to, successfully, then we can also give readers a percentage of what they need. But that isn’t what sells.”

In an industry long dominated by white men, Mr. Neuharth led the way in the hiring and promotion of women and minorities, tying compensation to hiring goals. By 1988 the proportion of minorities in Gannett newsrooms was 47 percent higher than the national average. Women accounted for nearly 40 percent of the company’s managers, professionals, technicians and sales agents and an unheard-of quarter of its newspaper publishers.

As Gannett’s chairman from 1973 to 1989, Mr. Neuharth transformed a regional group of mostly small, northeastern newspapers based in Rochester into a multimedia empire comprising the nation’s largest newspaper chain, 10 television and 16 radio stations and the nation’s largest outdoor advertising company, now based in McLean, Va.

Flamboyant, egotistic and proudly Machiavellian, Mr. Neuharth relished the role of larger-than-life tycoon. Even as he squeezed newspapers to plump share prices, he lived royally, maintaining luxurious executive suites in New York and Washington and five homes around the country. He crisscrossed the world in his corporate jet and was known to ride by limousine even for just a few blocks.

With a personal style that was more Rat Pack than rumpled newspaperman, he wore designer finery only in shades of black and white; was frequently seen with a woman on his arm, three of whom he married; and favored martinis. He installed bronze busts of himself in the lobbies of the two newspapers he founded, USA Today in McLean and Florida Today in Melbourne, Fla.

He was openly contemptuous of the journalistic establishment, reserving particular scorn for Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post, a rival across the Potomac with whom he feuded publicly.

“If USA Today is a good newspaper, then I’m in the wrong business,” Mr. Bradlee once said.

Mr. Neuharth shot back: “Bradlee and I finally agree on something. He is in the wrong business.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/20/business/media/al-neuharth-executive-who-built-gannett-and-usa-today-is-dead-at-89.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

In Online Games, a Path to Young Consumers

Lesly likes this online game so much that she plays twice a week, often e-mailing her creations to friends. “I always send them to my cousin in Los Angeles,” she said.

But this is not just a game — it is also advertising. Create a Comic, as it is called, was created by General Mills to help it sell Honey Nut Cheerios to children.

Like many marketers, General Mills and other food companies are rewriting the rules for reaching children in the Internet age. These companies, often selling sugar cereals and junk food, are using multimedia games, online quizzes and cellphone apps to build deep ties with young consumers. And children like Lesly are sharing their messages through e-mail and social networks, effectively acting as marketers.

When these tactics revolve around food, and blur the line between advertising and entertainment, they are a source of intensifying concern for nutrition experts and children’s advocates — and are attracting scrutiny from regulators. The Federal Trade Commission has undertaken a study of food marketing to children, due out this summer, while the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity has said one reason so many children are overweight is the way junk food is marketed.

Critics say the ads, from major companies like Unilever and Post Foods, let marketers engage children in a way they cannot on television, where rules limit commercial time during children’s programming. With hundreds of thousands of visits monthly to many of these sites, the ads are becoming part of children’s daily digital journeys, often flying under the radar of parents and policy makers, the critics argue.

“Food marketers have tried to reach children since the age of the carnival barker, but they’ve never had so much access to them and never been able to bypass parents so successfully,” said Susan Linn, a psychiatry instructor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy coalition. Ms. Linn and others point to many studies that show the link between junk-food marketing and poor diets, which are implicated in childhood obesity.

Food industry representatives call the criticism unfair and say they have become less aggressive in marketing to children in the Internet era, not more so.

Since 2006, 17 major corporations — including General Mills, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Burger King — have taken a voluntary pledge to reduce marketing of their least nutritious brands to children, an effort they updated last year to include marketing on mobile devices.

The pledge says the companies, if they choose to market to children, will only advertise food choices that are “better for you,” said Elaine D. Kolish, director of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, an arm of the Better Business Bureau that oversees the pledge.

“Compliance is excellent,” she said of the pledge. She noted that in recent months, companies had shut down several child-centric sites, including General Mills’s popular virtual world Millsberry, while other sites have been changed to focus on adults, like those of Kellogg’s Pop Tarts and Pepsi’s Cap’n Crunch. And she said General Mills and Post Foods had cut or pledged to cut the amount of sugar in some cereals.

Only rarely do these major companies violate their pledges, she said: “It’s pretty darn infrequent and it’s not willful.”

Nutrition experts say that the voluntary pledges are fraught with loopholes, and that “better for you” is a relative term that allows companies to keep marketing unhealthful options.

Whatever criticism they may invite, the companies have good financial reason to pitch to children. James McNeal, a former marketing professor at Texas AM University, estimates conservatively that children influence more than $100 billion in food and beverage purchases each year, and well over half of all cold cereal purchases.

Children “have power over spending in the household, they have power over the grandparents, they have power over the babysitters, and on and on and on,” said Professor McNeal, who has researched family behavior for decades and consulted for major companies on marketing to children. “All of that is finally being recognized and acknowledged.”

Some parents, like Lesly Lopez’s mother, Toribia Huerta, 26, say the online marketing is subverting their efforts to improve their children’s diets. Ms. Huerta said Lesly and her younger siblings pester her for sugary cereals they see in the games and for snacks like Baby Bottle Pops, a candy with a game site that the girl also visits often.

“They ask me for it constantly. They’re hard to resist when they whine,” Ms. Huerta said, speaking in Spanish through a translator. She blames her daughter’s love of sugar for her dental problems, including many cavities.

But Ms. Huerta also said the food sites seemed fun and safe: “They look like good games for her age.”

Games for Goods

Joshua Brustein contributed reporting from New York.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/21/business/21marketing.html?partner=rss&emc=rss