THE SELLING OF VIOLENCE

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A terrible school tragedy in Colorado and the ensuing White House "violence summit" in Washington should be a wakeup call for people in media and marketing. The message: Product developers, old- and new-media ad gatekeepers, Web sites and retailers all have a responsibility to scrutinize how entertainment products are sold to young people when violence is a distinct part of that product's appeal.

This is a responsibility not always well met. There is no excuse for anyone in the marketing chain not to be aware of it. For years, a heated debate over the social impact of violence-laden movies, cartoons, pop music and electronic games has been underway. The one thing that's clear, unfortunately, is that many teens -- and even younger kids -- are attracted to depictions of violence and are big consumers of it.

Thankfully, lawmakers such as Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.) are not yet pushing the government to march in (see Forum, Page 34). Legislators might better spend their time controlling real guns rather than realistic make-believe.

Instead, the senators want marketers, agencies and media to give special handling to products that traffic in realistic violent themes. That means extra care in packaging and content disclosures. It means restraint in advertising creative and media placement. It means closer media review of the advertising for such products, particularly when publishers, broadcasters or Web site operators are dealing with audiences of teens and youngsters. It means retailer controls on in-store promotion and sales of such products.

Marketers, including media, talk a lot about serving the interests of their customers. When kids are involved, that certainly includes special rules and