Nickelodeon "WANTED" For Impersonating Responsible Media Company

CSPI Ad in Hollywood Reporter Takes On Junk-Food Pitchman SpongeBob SquarePants

March 13, 2013

Nickelodeon is "WANTED" for impersonating a responsible media company, while it actually markets junk-food and obesity to children. That's the message of a hard-hitting, full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and other groups. The ad is a "Wanted" poster featuring mug shots of an unshaven and disheveled SpongeBob SquarePants, whom the ad warns should be approached with caution: he may be armed with nutritionally dangerous foods. The issue hits newsstands tomorrow.

"Nickelodeon prides itself on responsible programming for children, but what about its advertising?" asked CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Nickelodeon is lagging behind companies like Disney when it comes to supporting parents and protecting kids from junk-food marketing."

In 2011, American children under age 12 saw an average of 13 food advertisements per day, most of which were for unhealthy foods. Unlike Disney and Ion Media's Qubo, Nickelodeon has yet to set nutrition standards for which foods it will advertise to young children through television, its websites, apps, and other media. Nickelodeon, NickToons, and Nick Jr. recently have advertised unhealthy products such as Cocoa Puffs, Air Heads candies, Chuck E. Cheese's restaurants, and Fruit Roll-Ups.

Nick characters are on fatty, salty Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Cheese Nip crackers and sugary imitation-fruit snacks, Pez candy, and Popsicles. Unilever's Popsicle brand sells ice pops in the shape of SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. The SpongeBob SquarePants bar is made from water, several forms of sugar, and a long list of preservatives, artificial food dyes, and other additives.

In 2006 and again in 2012, CSPI praised the Walt Disney Company for the progress that it has made to curb junk-food marketing to kids. Disney's updated policy will mean that the company will no longer accept ads for the unhealthiest foods on its children's television, radio, and websites, and that it is strengthening the nutrition standards for the foods its licensed characters can be used to promote. The Disney character Goofy, for instance, appears on packaging for a snack pack that includes cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery sticks, and dip.

The ad was also sponsored by Berkeley Media Studies Group, Center for Digital Democracy, Children Now, Prevention Institute, and Voices for America's Children. Funding for the ad was provided by The California Endowment.

"It's simply wrong for children's entertainment companies to push junk foods and junk drinks on their young viewers," said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of The California Endowment. "Nickelodeon should follow the example of the Walt Disney Company and establish strong advertising guidelines that teach good nutrition and bar the promotion of unhealthy products on its television, radio, and online channels."

CSPI has been urging activists and concerned parents to send emails urging activists and concerned parents to send emails to Viacom president and CEO Philipe Dauman and Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami urging them to implement a clear and transparent policy for food marketing to children. Nickelodeon's parent company, Viacom, is holding its annual shareholders meeting in Hollywood, CA on March 21.


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