FTC Petitioned to Rein in Marketing of Baby Videos

Advocates Target Disney's Baby Einstein and Rival Brainy Baby

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Saying there is little evidence that watching videos makes babies smarter, a consumer group today asked the Federal Trade Commission to sharply rein in marketing from Walt Disney Co.'s Baby Einstein and a smaller rival, The Brainy Baby.
Disney's Baby Einstein and its rival, Brainy Baby, market interactive DVDs, videos, books, music CDs and toys for consumers as young as six months.
Disney's Baby Einstein and its rival, Brainy Baby, market interactive DVDs, videos, books, music CDs and toys for consumers as young as six months.

$1 billion market
In a complaint filed with the FTC, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood suggests the brand names, packaging, ads and Web sites used by the two companies are false and deceptive. The group claims videos for children under 2 is a $1 billion market.

"Companies such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby have capitalized on parents' desires to give their very young children a leg up on learning and development by deceptively and falsely marketing their videos as educational and beneficial for infant development," said the complaint. "These claims are deceptive because no [supporting] research or evidence exists [and] preliminary research suggests that television is a poor tool for educating very young children."

'No screen time'
The complaint cites studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommend children under the age of 2 receive "no screen time." The complaint also refers to studies that suggest TV watching by those under 3 can negatively affect cognitive development and cause sleep irregularities.

Susan Linn, a Harvard Medical School psychologist who founded Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and is associate director of the Media Center of Judge Baker Children's Center, said the complaint was filed because of the amount of marketing going into the products, marketing that recently has seen expansion. Last year Disney launched a Little Einstein line aimed at preschoolers and introduced a Little Einstein series as part of the Playhouse Disney block on cable's Disney Channel.

"What screens do is take babies away from what is beneficial, creative play," Ms. Linn said. "[The videos] take time away from parents when babies learn with all five senses and replace that with something that only uses two senses, sight and hearing. Babies need interaction."

'Claims educational benefits'
The group's FTC complaint contends that Baby Einstein and Baby Brainy claim benefits that are not substantiated by research. "Baby Einstein bombards consumers with claims about educational benefits of its videos in its product descriptions, testimonials and traditional media advertising to create an overall net impression that the videos have educational value," according to the complaint.

Brainy Baby's marketing gives consumers the impression that the videos improve cognitive skills, using videos with names like "Left Brain" and "Right Brain," the group charged. "Brainy Baby also makes numerous claims to create the overall net impression that its videos are education and beneficial for infants brain development."

Dennis Fedoruk, president-CEO of Brainy Baby, said that while he had heard rumors of the complaint before, he was a little surprised his company was targeted. "We don't claim to educate babies. We don't provide them a Harvard education. We don't advertise and we don't make educational claims," he said. "The only reason we are selling is that mothers see a difference in their child's life."

'Go find one mom'
He described his company's videos as being one tool "like any other, a book or a ball," for parents to interact with their children. "I have not heard one parent complain. Go find one mom that will give [Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood] support," he said.

Disney did not return calls for comment at press time. But on its Web site, Baby Einstein says that while it respects the American Academy of Pediatrics, it feels the academy's study on TV viewing for children under 2 does not between the effects of what is watched, nor between watching normal TV and watching videos. "What's so wonderful about videos is that they are a controlled medium that allows parents to specifically select the content they are sharing with their little ones," according to the site, which also noted that unlike TV, the companies' videos are specifically designed for babies and toddlers.
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