A chastened Disney is offering refunds to consumers who own a copy of the companys Baby Einstein video, bowing to pressure from a parents group that says the video is more likely to turn children into Baby Alfred E. Neumans.
Disneys move allows anyone who bought a Baby Einstein video between June 5, 2004 and September 4, 2009 to get their money back. Alternatively, consumers can trade their DVD in for a Baby Einstein book or CD, or redeem it for a 25 percent discount on future Baby Einstein purchases. The offer is good through March 4, 2010.
For years the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a group fighting to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers, has said the videos dont live up to Disneys promises.
In 2006, the CCFC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), alleging that Disneys claims about the videos supposed educational benefits amounted to false and deceptive advertising. The complaint pointed out that the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends no TV at all for children under two, regardless of content. The CCFC thus reasoned that the videos may in fact damage, rather than promote, childrens intellectual development.
In response to the CCFCs complaint, Baby Einstein agreed to overhaul its marketing materials to eliminate any unsubstantiated claims about the videos potential benefits. The company also removed parent testimonials from its website. In light of these actions, the FTC declined to pursue the matter further, a development that left the CCFC deeply troubled.
Susan Linn, a CCFC director and psychologist, said Disneys latest move is an acknowledgment that baby videos are not educational. The groups website calls the turn of events another CCFC victory and reemphasized the lack of credible evidence that any screen media is educational for children under two.
Not going quietly
While the CCFC clearly won the day, Disney isnt going quietly. Susan McLain, the general manager of Baby Einstein, released a statement choc full of sour grapes, framing the refund arrangement as a last-resort tactic in a war against propaganda groups taking extreme positions. McLain focused her venom on Linn, asserting that the matter should have been settled after the previous FTC complaint was put to rest, but that the Linns attacks continued and escalated despite the fact that her assertions have no merit.
The statement closed with the obligatory labeling of the CCFCs actions as a smear campaign.
The CCFC, based in Boston, operates under the notion that most problems facing children including obesity, substance abuse, and violence can be traced back to the rampant commercialization of society. The group seeks to fight the me first attitude promoted by corporate marketing.
Disney bought Baby Einstein in November 2001, when the company was already a multi-million dollar franchise. Julie Aigner-Clark, who founded the company in 1997, made headlines two years ago when President Bush pointed her out during his State of the Union Address. The recognition seemed arbitrary at best, given that Clark shared the moment with, among others, Wesley Autrey, who leapt in front of a subway train to save a homeless man languishing on the tracks. It was later revealed that Clarks husband contributed over $5,000 to Bushs 2004 reelection campaign.