Dora’s Disappointing Makeover

Posted on March 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Here is the opening paragraph of a new press release:
Mattel, Inc. (NYSE:MAT) and Nickelodeon/Viacom Consumer Products (NVCP), announced today that Dora the Explorer™ is growing up! The companies have introduced a whole new way to look at Dora for girls five years and up. This groundbreaking initiative, featuring fashion dolls and accessories, is a completely new brand extension that empowers girls to influence and change the lives of Dora and her new friends. It’s innovative, diverse, wholesome, bi-lingual and entertaining.
“A whole new way to look at Dora” and “a completely new brand extension” both translate to “more things for us to sell,” of course. And my heart sinks to hear of plucky little Dora being turned into a “brand extension” “featuring fashion dolls and accessories.” So Dora is going to turn into Barbie now, all about what she wears and has instead of what she does and what she learns?
Judy Berman wrote on Salon’s Broadsheet that this makes the new middle schooler Dora “with a whole new fashionable look” sound like she’s becoming a Gossip Girl.

(S)tarting this fall, for the not-terribly-recession-conscious price of $59.99, your five year old will also be able to buy an older, doll version of the character. Though Mattel and Nick are waiting a few months to reveal exactly what she’ll look like, a bizarre silhouette accompanying the press release shows that, at the very least, Dora will have long hair and be decked out in a short skirt or dress and a pair of flats.

Berman does not think this will go over very well with kids. “You can put a skirt on Dora and cinch her waist, but by the time kids reach kindergarten, they may well think of Dora as ‘baby stuff.'” But the authors of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes, Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D and Sharon Lamb, Ed.D, have put up an online petition calling for Mattel and Nickelodeon to halt Dora’s makeover.

What happened? FIRST it was Dora’s Magic Talking Kitchen, THEN Dora Princess, THEN Dora Babysitter in her cousin’s show, NOW DORA TWEEN.

Alas, we saw the signs. The cute flower lip gloss, the pinkified look, the sudden separation of Dora and Diego shows…What next? Dora the Cheerleader? Dora the fashionista with stylish purse and stilettos? Dora the Pop Star with Hoppin’ Dance Club and “Juice” Bar? We can expect it all, because that’s what passes as “tween” in the toy department these days….


We know that if the original Dora grew up, she wouldn’t be a fashion icon or a shopaholic. She’d develop her map reading skills and imagine the places she could go. She’d capitalize on those problem solving skills to design new ways to bring fresh water to communities in need around the world. Maybe she’d become a world class runner or follow her love of animals and become a wildlife preservationist or biologist. We’ll never know because the only way a girl can grow up in tween town, is to narrow that symphony of choices to one note. It’s such a sell out of Dora, of all girls.

I agree. It’s a sell-out of Dora and of her fans, another example of popular culture promoting the idea that any girl over age 5 doesn’t care about anything but how she looks.

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Elementary School Marketing to Kids Parenting Preschoolers Tweens Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Jessica Alba ‘Enhanced’ for Campari

Posted on December 9, 2008 at 11:16 am

ALBA-large.jpgWhat kind of lunatic would try to improve on Jessica Alba? Apparently the folks at Campari felt that the beautifully curvy star was just a little too curvy and they retouched her photo to make her look slimmer.
It is just this kind of nonsense that sends a message of impossible standards to young girls and women. Anyone who thinks the retouched picture is more attractive than the original has a distorted idea of beauty and of reality — two concepts that did not used to be considered mutually exclusive.

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Advertising Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Book for Concerned Parents: So Sexy So Soon

Posted on August 8, 2008 at 9:16 am

The authors of the book “So Sexy So Soon,” Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne, say that children are constantly bombarded by the media and advertisers with images and portrayals of hyper-sexuality.

Thong panties, padded bras, and risqué Halloween costumes for young girls. T-shirts that boast “Chick Magnet” for toddler boys. Sexy content on almost every television channel, as well as in books, movies, video games, and even cartoons. Hot young female pop stars wearing provocative clothing and dancing suggestively while singing songs with sexual and sometimes violent lyrics. These products are marketed aggressively to our children; these stars are held up for our young daughters to emulate-and for our sons to see as objects of desire.

In the book, the authors provide practical suggestions about the ways that parents can provide context and expand their children’s understanding and imagination to help them make sense of the avalanche of messages equating sexuality (and only sexuality) with happiness and power — that that buying products is the way to achieve that. This interview describes the way children respond to the media’s messages and some of the content of the book.

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Books Marketing to Kids Teenagers Tweens Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Burger King promotes inappropriate film

Posted on May 3, 2008 at 8:00 pm

It infuriates me when fast food companies promote PG-13 films by giving away tie-in toys to children. Burger King is now giving away toys for children as young as three to promote “Iron Man” a movie with “intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence” (according to the Motion Picture Association’s rating board) and opens with a joke about the main character having sex with twelve different Maxim cover models. These toys are intended to get kids to want to see the film. They are also intended to encourage parents to think that the movie is appropriate for children. Oh, and the movie has some jarring and intrusive product placement when the main character says what he most wants when he returns home is a cheeseburger and we next see him holding something that says Burger King.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has called on Burger King to stop giving Iron Man toys to children. CCFC’s Director Dr Susan Linn, author of The Case for Make Believe, said, “When it comes to marketing to kids, Burger King wants to have it their way; linking its brand to a blockbuster film clearly trumps any concerns about children’s wellbeing.” You can let Burger King know how you feel about this issue by calling 305-378-3535 Monday-Friday 9-5 Eastern time.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Baby Einstein = Baby Couch Potato

Posted on December 16, 2007 at 8:39 am

The fastest-growing “audience” for media has been babies under age two. Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against them and all academic evidence has shown that it takes babies two to three times as long to learn something from television than it does to observe it in person, that they are at the same time soporific and stimulating, and that they interfere with direct interaction and development of self-soothing skills, they continue to be marketed with names like “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby” to persuade parents (and grandparents and baby shower gift-givers) that these are good for children.
In 2006, The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

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. For example, Baby Einstein claims that with its Baby da Vinci video, “your child will learn to identify her different body parts, and also discover her five senses… in Spanish, English, and French!” Brainy Baby claims that “the educational content of Brainy Baby can help give your child a learning advantage!”
These claims are deceptive and false in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act. The claims are deceptive because no research or evidence exists to support Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby’s claims that their videos are educational or beneficial for very young children. In fact, preliminary research suggests that television is a poor tool for educating very young children. They are false because research indicates that television viewing by children under three negatively affects cognitive development. Furthermore television viewing has been linked to sleep irregularity in babies and obesity in preschoolers. Finally, experts are concerned that television may be harmful for infants and toddlers because it displaces brain stimulating activities with proven developmental benefits, such as interaction with parents and siblings and
creative play. Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby, and other infant-video producers’ claims influence consumer purchasing decisions and decisions about their infant’s media usage. These choices directly impact the health and safety of thousands of very young children and put them at risk for significant harm. For these reasons, the CCFC calls on the Commission to take prompt action to prevent consumers from being misled into purchasing infant videos and to protect thousands of infants and toddlers from the potential harms caused by early television viewing.

They were supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has consistently recommended against any “screen time media” for babies under age 2.

Research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other caregivers for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills. These infant videos are marketed under the guise of being educational. The company names alone, Brainy Baby and Baby Einstein, are proof of the marketing strategy. There is no current evidence to prove that these videos help infants and toddlers in an intellectual or developmental way. Parents should know that their babies will develop just fine without watching these videos.
The reality is that parents play the videos to give themselves some time to do other household chores, like cooking dinner or doing laundry. However, they shouldn’t be led to believe that it helps their baby.

Disappointingly, following some toning down of the advertising claims, the FTC ended its investigation. But the original (disproven) claims persist on the websites of retailers like Amazon. Beware.


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