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This PSA is part of a campaign by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. I am a big fan of the GDIGM in general, and this PSA definitely has some really great features, as well as some surprising ones. The choice to begin the ad with a blank white screen and then the sound of heels walking on the ground is particularly interesting. It definitely captures the viewer’s attention and tells him/her that this ad is going to feature a female. Typically the sound of walking heels is associated with women (not girls) who are either powerful or objects of affection- two conflicting images. I think this is actually quite fitting for the ad, because despite being more about girls than women, per se, the sound of heels could be associated with any type of woman of any profession, shape, color, background, etc. Following the footsteps, we see a young girl, and the remainder of the ad is presented with a young girl’s voice for the voice over. This also seems quite fitting, because it grounds the ad in the child’s perspective and elicits feelings of childhood and innocence, feelings that often stir people’s emotions, while remaining a PSA targeted to adults in the field of media. What I find most surprising about this ad is the use of the “cookie-cutter” style for the boys and girls presented. While each girl is shown to be slightly different, in terms of the shade of the skin tone (not color, because the colors are not skin tones), hair style, and accessories (such as glasses), they are all the same basic shape and are all wearing skirts/dresses like a stereotypical paper doll. For an ad that is communicating the need to show women and girls in media in all different lights, using this stylistically attractive, but seemingly contradictory style seems odd and out of place. Nonetheless, the PSA worked on me… I went to the GDIGM website to check out what they’re doing—you should too (and look, now they got ME to advertise for THEM too!).

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Boston Globe- International Children's Film Festival

"I call it my ‘Chicken Finger Manifesto,’” says Eric Beckman, founder and creative director of the New York International Children’s Film Festival. “If you raise your kids eating chicken fingers, all they’ll want to eat is chicken fingers.”

Beckman makes an interesting point. If we expose children to deeper, more diverse, sometimes darker, and sometimes sadder films, will we foster a desire for fine film rather than “chicken finger”-quality film?

It always strikes me how well certain movies (for adults) do in the box office. Why do people want to spend $12 on a movie that barely makes them think, doesn’t touch an emotional nerve, and doesn’t really say much of anything at all? I suppose movies are a way to relax, and sometimes people want to go to the movies to avoid deep thought. But the real “quality” movies, those with actual cinematic credibility that touch us in some way instead of solely entertain, are often times not given the attention they deserve from the general population. Does this stem from the population’s film “training”? If children saw a variety of films—the typical “kid” films plus other films that are appropriate for children but aren’t all rainbows and butterflies—perhaps they would request more films like that, creating a market for deeper films for children, and eventually a demand for quality films in general. I think the key here is also variety. As an adult, I have the option to watch a sad film, a funny film, a dark one, or a mystery. Children tend to have two categories—light-hearted and animated, or light-hearted and live-action. While some movies, Up being the first one that popped into my mind, may have more emotional moments and messages, the core of the movie is silly. Children experience a wide range of emotions and events, many of which aren’t light-hearted, even in just a few years of life. They deserve to see that presented on screen in a developmentally appropriate way.

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NYTimes - "...TV's Preschool Playground"

Nickelodeon v. Disney has been a hot button topic in the children’s media world for a while now (well, at least for those of us who talk about this stuff and look at ratings), but Disney Jr. (formerly Playhouse Disney) is relatively new on the scene as real competition for Nick Jr. While I certainly appreciate Disney Jr.’s increased focus on research for their preschool programming (particularly speaking with a large number of children), I don’t believe for one second that it is not about the money. Both Disney and Nickelodeon, while genuinely interested in providing exciting content for children, are first and foremost businesses. To be clear, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. However, the Disney Jr. relaunch was certainly about ratings and money and not losing a portion of their audience and future audience to Nickelodeon. 

Last year, for the first time, Disney beat Nickelodeon out in ratings with their target kid audience. However, Nick Jr. still beat out Disney programming for preschoolers. As the Disney representative logically explains, the earlier they get their audience to latch on, the better the chance they will watch Disney-owned channels their whole lives. And with so much preschool content on TV, tablets, smartphones, and more, it is not surprise that Disney has amped up its preschool programming. By integrating their existing properties for preschool content (princesses, Peter Pan, etc.), they maximize their potential—a 3 year old who loves Princess Sofia will not only want the Princess Sofia toys, but will want all the product of her princess teachers (Snow White, Cinderella, etc.). She will want to visit them at Disney World. She will want a Princess makeover and matching tiara. Again, I’m not blaming Disney. It is, at its core, business, and an superbly run business at that. And I don’t doubt that all of this interaction with the property (the Disney world visit and Peter Pan comforter, etc.) strengthens a child’s bond to it and increases the likelihood that they will keep watching which increases the likelihood that they will benefit from the educational messages. It’s not ALL bad. All I’m saying, is that it would be nice if they owned up to it. By helping the kids, they are helping themselves.

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AT&T has been airing this new series of ads called “It’s Not Complicated” where they have a man in a suit talking to young kids about basic topics (that they tie in to their campaign for the company) like “What is better, more or less?” “Fast or slow?” “Is it better to do two things at one time?” etc. The ad campaign was created by BBDO and includes at least 14 ads on AT&T’s youtube channel. 

What I appreciate about these ads are the honesty they try to maintain. The children don’t necessarily make complete sense or complete sentences. Some of the kids in the ad seem to agree with each other while others look over at the kid who is talking like they are nuts. It doesn’t seem staged. And how glad was I when I did a bit of research and learned that, for much of it, it wasn’t staged. According to Advertising Age, the children featured in the ads were chosen because they were particularly talkative or imaginative, and while elements of the ads were scripted, the children’s answers we primarily their own. In other words, the ad agency was able to easily use this creative and talkative little boy (and all the other kids in the ads) who thought that “Nicky” and “flash” sounded like they rhymed and make some money off of it. Is it exploitation? I personally just think it’s smart. Kids have always said the darndest things for free; if you pay them a bit of money, they can say those darn things and make you a great ad with no harm to anyone. The innocence of the kids paired with the seriousness of the man in the video makes for great comedy at no one’s expense.

I think this ad campaign is successful because the commercials are addicting. I’ve shared them with my friends. I’ve tweeted about them. I’ve gone through the whole channel and I just want more. I guess, as one girl explains:

"More is better than less because if stuff is not less—if there’s more less stuff then you might wanna have some more and your parents just don’t let you because there’s only a little bit. We want more, we want more—like you really like it, you want more."

Makes sense to me.

But in the end… I am a Verizon customer and these ads won’t make me get up and change my plan. But maybe when I need to get a new plan, the decision will be easier because AT&T ads will be ringing in my head. It’s not complicated, or so they hope.

Link to the Advertising Age article can be found here.

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NYTimes- Bringing Personal Technology Into Schools

Just a few years ago, when I was in high school, “no cell phones” was a teacher motto. While many schools are still like this, some are adopting this BYOT (bring your own technology) policy that could change the concept of school for generations to come. 

I can see why schools are hoping to minimize distractions in the classroom, but I see real value in allowing students access to their beloved devices during the school day by incorporating them into classroom learning. I agree with the sentiment put forward by Volusia School officials, “they should take advantage of, rather than fight, students’ deep connections with their devices,” and would even take it a step further. Kids and parents are constantly getting conflicting messages in their lives: they need to be technologically literate, but shouldn’t have too much screen time; they should learn to create digital content like websites to prepare for successful careers, but they shouldn’t have their phones out at school. By allowing students to use technology, and specifically their own technology (which is notably cost-effective), schools are helping to present one, unified message—when used safely, appropriately, and innovatively, technology can be a fun, educational, and useful tool simultaneously. 

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Gabriele Galimberti’s Toy Stories

Galimberti’s “Toy Stories” study, which sought to document what children claim as their prized toy possessions in different countries, brings forth a number of thoughts and questions. The images very clearly demonstrate a difference in wealth, living standards, and perhaps cultural values in the countries/region represented. While the children presented from India, Italy (Montecchio), and China clearly have more material possessions and a higher standard of living, in terms of economics, than the children presented from Morocco and Kenya, what is more interesting is the items themselves. Only one child, the boy from Morocco, has included books in the group of his most prized toy possessions. The two children who have only one toy in their pictures, each have stuffed toys (and both happen to be monkeys), the type of toy typically associated with comfort. The boy from the Ukraine has toy guns, the girl from Italy (Castiglion Fiorentino) standing in a barn has toy gardening tools, and the girl from Albania is standing a room decked out in pink, princesses, and dolls.

I have to wonder how each of these children were chosen, how they were asked to present their favorite toys, and how representative each child truly is of his/her country/region. The pictures that Galimberti presents are extremely powerful, and have the potential to be simplified by an unquestioning audience into definitions of childhood in each particular country/region. While the images are extremely powerful, I worry that they have the power to subconsciously present all Ukrainian children (and their parents) as children bred for war, and all Albanian girls as girly and frilly. Having seen a number of children’s rooms in the United States (including my brother’s and my own) I can say with certainty that not all American children have dinosaur themed rooms and tons of dinosaur toys. Galimberti certainly does not present his collection of portraits as definition of childhood for different countries—in fact he emphasized the vast similarities between the children and their relationship with toys and play. Nonetheless, it should be emphasized that these children are individual examples, and should not serve to be representations of their entire countries—after all, they are only just learning what it means to be themselves.

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Two weeks ago, I posted an article published in the NY Times about a study that showed that prosocial, educational television can reduce aggressive behaviors in children. The study (and article) boasted how important this study was due to its randomized trial in while participants were randomly given a push toward a particular type of content or not. 

But an article published this week on Psychology Today begins to poke holes at this study. How were the child’s TV habits reported? By the parents! So, when a parent is told to have their child watch certain content, how likely are they to say that they DIDN’T actually have their child watch that content. This phone conversation used to dispense and gather information during the testing is telling:

Researcher: Numerous studies have linked television to childhood obesity, aggression, stunted cognitive development, attentional deficits, criminal behavior….I cannot stress enough the importance of choosing quality shows for your child. I will help you make good choices. Did I mention you should be monitoring your child’s viewing behavior for the sake of his future health and safety? 

Parent: Uh-huh

Researcher: So, what has your kid been watching?

Parent: Um, Sesame Street?

Well, what did they expect them to say!? It’s a shame that this study is so unreliable, but it is even more of a shame that I, as a reader and a child development major, was tricked by the positive spin of a newspaper article. It just goes to show how powerful a big name like the NY Times is when a reader who has studied how to find “holes” in studies takes the well-known paper’s report on the research at face value. Lesson learned! (Although, let’s face it, journalists are good; I’m sure I’ll be tricked again)

But WAIT… how do I know if THIS article is a spin? 

See the Psychology Today article here.

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So they did it! 

Sesame Street reached 1 billion views and released their special 1 billion video celebration video early yesterday morning. I thoroughly enjoyed their celebration video: Count Von Count decides he is going to count Sesame Street’s YouTube views by counting the different viewers. He then proceeds to sing a song about this as images of “viewers” watching on their respective screens pop up on the screen. I went through the first minute of the song, and recorded what “viewers” appeared:

1.     Young white woman on a Macbook in a chic, urban looking coffee shop

2.     A few sets of predominately white children, with a few children of other races sitting around laptops in groups, presumably at libraries

3.     3 families, all white, with at least 1 adult and 1 child watching a television

4.     Young white woman watching a television (in her home?)

5.     3 light skinned (difficult to tell) young adults (early twenties), 2 female and 1 male, watching on an iPad on an urban block

6.     1 preschool-aged black boy watching on an iPad in a home

7.     3 young teen girls, 1 white, 1 Asian, 1 unidentifiable watching on an iPad in a house

Now, to be fair this is only the first minute of a 2 minute 45 second song, however, I still find this representation to be extremely bizarre. First, and most obvious to me, was the age of the viewers presented. Sure, I watch a good deal of Sesame Street clips on YouTube, but I would call myself an anomaly in this respect. I was under the impression that most people over the age of six do not watch Sesame Street YouTube videos very often by themselves—with a son or daughter, grandchild, or the kid next door who you babysit, sure, but not as a 20-year-old on the street on your iPad with your other 20-year-old friends. In the last minute and 45 seconds of the video, they show at least 3 more adults watching by themselves or with peers on mobile devices.

The second thing that I notice is race and perceived nationality—the “viewers,” at least in this first minute are overwhelmingly white or light skinned.  This is odd to me for a number of reasons. The first is that Sesame Street seeks to target underserved children specifically, many of whom are not white. I know, even speaking locally about their offices in NYC, they reach out to underserved preschools and families with young children around the city who are predominately African American and Hispanic—it seems to me that since they already have a relationship with local preschools and families of a more diverse and representative population, they could have easily tapped into this market for their production. Secondly, Sesame Street is a global company—it is surprising that they would focus on very American looking families and environments, when YouTube is an international website and many of their viewers may not be Americans. Three possible explanations to this are that Sesame Street co-productions in other countries may have their own YouTube channels and/or the video was centered around a New York population, as this is where Sesame Street takes place and/or the video production budget did not afford filming viewers in more distant locations. The final reason that this struck me as particularly odd is because Sesame Street is extremely conscious of the way they present groups of people in their productions—the typically actively seek a diverse, representative population for their productions. It is worth noting that there do seem to be a few more racially diverse “viewers” in the rest of the video, and clip placement may cause the first minute observations to skew the image of the entire video.

Regardless, congrats, Sesame Street, on 1 billion views!

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Following up on the last post:

USA Today reported on the girl/boy toy discussion earlier this month. Researchers acknowledge that gender-neutral toys can help all kids cultivate a range of skills and interests and that it is indeed easier for a girl to play with a “boy’s toy” than a boy to play with a girl’s. While girls may be adoringly called “tom boy,” boys who want to play with girls toys offer suffer relentless teasing. Those in research and related industry realize that there has been a greater and greater divide between boy’s and girl’s toys—taking a walk down an aisle in a toy store and you are bombarded by pink and purple or black, blue, and green. Susan Linn, the director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood points out “Kids learn from everything.” The beliefs that toy companies pass down in their color choices, toy store placement, and marketing subconsciously teach kids who they are supposed to be. But in a world driven by economics, what are the toy companies to do? The pink easy bake ovens sell, and that’s a fact. The answer is in the hands of the consumer… and the internet. Campaigns like McKenna’s, especially because she is a kid herself, attract attention, and if the company makes a smart PR move, they can really boost sales. Hasbro tried, sort of. But with now invested consumers, media attention, and a bit more risk-taking, they could put themselves in the driver’s seat for a toy revolution.

 

See the USA Today Article here.

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A few months ago, when 13 year old McKenna Pope went to get her 4-year-old brother the Easy Bake Oven he wanted for Christmas, she discovered that all the Easy Bake Ovens were marketed to girls—they were pink and purple and only girls appeared in the advertisements. Disappointed that she couldn’t get her adorable brother what he wanted, she posted a video of her adorable brother and began a petition to get Hasbro to make gender-neutral ovens. 

Having followed this story, I can say that the internet has been a huge player in this push for a gender neutral oven. Starting with McKenna’s video, she used the internet to publicize here adorable brother’s plight and maximized the effects by starting an online petition. Once it was out there on the internet, anyone—including Hasbro—was forced to confront it. She garnered support from famous male chefs who posted their own videos of support and signed the petition. Eventually, the pressure mounted on Hasbro and they invited her family to the Hasbro offices to discuss the matter. Not only is that a great PR move for Hasbro—truly listening to their consumer—but it proves the power of the internet. It is unlikely that letter writing campaign or another pre-web method would have gained so much traction. 

Once they had the Pope family in the offices, they pulled out their “gender-neutral” easy bake oven that they had supposedly been working on for 18 months. Sounds a bit convenient to me, but I’ll give it to them.

Jump ahead a few months are we are at the NYC 2013 Toy Fair, just over a week ago. In this video, the Hasbro representative carefully discusses the 50th anniversary new easy bake oven design, never mentioning the fact that the silver, black, and blue colors are a gender-neutral push. Do they think mentioning the fact that they are trying to appeal to girls AND boys is a negative? Regardless, she introduces the new oven, and the camera pulls away to reveal the Easy Bake Oven Toy Fair display—pink and purple with a picture of two girls using the product! It does seem like the new oven’s packaging is blue and purple with one boy and one girl using the product, but the display is clearly pink and frilly—and all of the accessories are still pink! I have no problem with pink, and I definitely have no problem with boys using a pink toy, but the pink accessories send the message that Hasbro has really only half-heartedly dealt with the heart of McKenna’s (and the 44,000 others who signed her petition) concerns. The pink, frilly accessories and the cheerful tween girls on the boxes say to her brother, “Sure you can use this, but we didn’t make it for you.” 

See McKenna’s original video here.