A group opposed to corporate marketing aimed at children has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to prevent the Nicktoons cable network from airing a new animated series featuring characters created to promote the Skechers shoe brand.
The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) is protesting the broadcast of Zevo-3, a cartoon series featuring the characters Z-Strap, Elastika, and Kewl Breeze. The three super-powered protagonists were introduced in a Skechers’ advertising campaign and subsequent comic book several years ago, with each character possessing a power specific to the shoe they wear. The program is scheduled to debut October 11.
“It’s important to emphasize that we are not asking the government to create new rules or regulations here,” said CCFC Associate Director Josh Golin. “We’re just asking the FCC to follow the existing law. The United States has so few regulations restricting marketing to kids, and this show violates several of them.”
Nickelodeon spokesperson David Bittler flatly disputes Golin’s assertions. “This show does not violate the Children’s Television Act. We obviously wouldn’t air it if it did,” he said.
Elmo, Dora, and Stankfoot
In its FCC petition, CCFC claims Zevo-3 violates the Children’s Television Act of 1990. According to the FCC’s fact sheet on children’s television programming, however, the legislation makes “no distinction between general audience/entertainment programs that serve children’s educational and informational needs and programs that are specifically designed to educate and inform children.”
At the core of the Zevo-3 mythology established in the comic books, the three protagonists are superheroes who fight monsters conjured by the evil Stankfoot, formerly the genius scientist Dr. Stanley K. Foot. Stankfoot, believing himself to have been wronged by the mayor of New Eden City, has vowed revenge, which he attempts to accomplish by creating mutants to battle Z-Strap, Kewl Breeze, and Elastika.
“Skechers’ Zevo-3 is a considerable escalation in the commercialization of children’s television,” said Golin.
Deborah McAdams, editor of Television Broadcast and senior editor of TV Technology, says the commercial references have to be frequent and explicit in order for the show to violate the law. “I have not seen the show, so I don’t know how many direct references there are to Skechers,” she said. “Multiple product placements and references would make it a program-length commercial under FCC rules.”
Award-winning commentator Henry Payne says the Children’s Television Act and the CCFC agenda are an unwarranted intrusion against freedom of speech.
The Pulitzer Prize-nominated Detroit News political cartoonist said, “Imagine First Nanny Michelle Obama’s restaurant food guidelines applied to children’s programming and you have the Children’s Television Act of 1990, a federal TV ‘guideline’ that opens the door to busybodies to interfere in commercial television.”
Payne continued: “The latest interference comes from CCFC and its protest of Nicktoon’s Zevo-3 for—gasp!—creating characters from a line of shoes. Comic characters and licensing have been intertwined for years, to the horror of activists who contend commercialization causes obesity, global warming, and violent kidbots. Children, they contend, must be raised in a commercial-free bubble with a strict diet of Michelle’s fruits, nuts, and carrot sticks,” he said.
“So what’s next?” asked Payne. “Ban Snoopy from marketing life insurance? Arrest Ronald McDonald? Round up Harry Potter Happy Meals?”
Blocked Several Other Companies
Boston, Massachusetts-based CCFC marks among its accomplishments forcing Kellogg’s to stop marketing on school grounds and limit its use of the animated Shrek character as a “spokesperson”; stopping Scholastic Books from marketing books featuring the Bratz dolls in its school marketing flyers; and preventing Hasbro from marketing a line of dolls based on the Pussycat Dolls burlesque group.
According to its Web site, CCFC “advocates for the adoption of government policies that limit corporate marketers’ access to children” in order “to stop the commercial exploitation of children.”
Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of Info Tech & Telecom News.
On the Internet:
“Advocates Ask FCC to Stop Skechers Program-Length Commercial for Kids: Nicktoons’ Zevo-3 Will Violate Children’s Television Act’s Ad Limits,” Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood press release: http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/pressreleases/skecherszevo3.html
“Federal Communications Commission Petition,” Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/pdf/skechersfccpetition.pdf
Zevo-3 Official Web site: http://zevo-3.com/
“Children’s Television Programming Fact Sheet,” Federal Communications Commission, 1995: http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Mass_Media/Factsheets/kidstv.txt