KAI RYSSDAL: President Bush singled out Julie Aigner Clark during his State of the Union address this week. She's the entrepreneur who founded the Baby Einstein Company and sold it to Disney in 2001. Anyone with a young child can probably tell you about the product line. Videos, books and toys — even puppets. All marketed as learning tools for the toddler set. The president drew attention to the company to stress the growing importance of women entrepreneurs. But commentator and media critic Susan Linn has another take.
SUSAN LINN: Baby Einstein has a lot in common with the Bush administration. Both specialize in brilliantly crafted, hugely successful, false and deceptive marketing. Both exploit fear as a tool for marketing. Both rely on building a passive and accepting media audience.
Preying on parental fears about children's development, Baby Einstein brought in over $200 million to Disney in 2005 through unsubstantiated claims that its videos were educational for babies, and by hyping a link that doesn't exist between its brand and learning.
The most horrifying example of the Bush administration's deceptive marketing and manipulation of fear is the war in Iraq — sold to us through unsubstantiated claims of weapons of mass destruction and by hyping a link that didn't exist between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.
By targeting babies, companies are marketing not just products but lifelong habits, hardwiring dependence on media before babies even have a chance to grow and develop the way they do it best, through hands-on creative play. And it's through playing that children learn, among other things, skills essential to thriving in and protecting democratic society — critical thinking, initiative, problem solving and empathy.
That's in contrast to what children learn from the more than 40 hours a week they spend with commercially-dominated media — unthinking brand loyalty, impulse buying and a belief that all the world's a market. Corporate values embraced and pushed by the Bush administration.
During the build-up to the Iraq war, the President's chief of staff was asked why Bush waited until September to promote the invasion. He replied, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
Do we want to raise a generation of die-hard consumers trained from birth to buy into war as just another product? Or do we want to raise democratic citizens?
We know what this Administration prefers.
RYSSDAL: Susan Linn is the associate director of the Media Center at Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston.