Warning! Retailers on the Holiday Prowl

     Just two days before the start of the Christmas shopping season, USA Today provided parents a “tip sheet to know what to watch for to shield their kids, and themselves” – shielding from dastardly retailers, that is.


     “In the next few weeks, marketers will try to nudge, prod and cajole kids into buying their stuff,” the cover story teased on the front of the November 22 Money section. Reporter Bruce Horovitz did acknowledge in the story that it’s parents who have to buy the toys – but took aim at retailers, accusing them of causing children to nag.


     Horovitz supplied an angry parent: “Erin Willett wants Wal-Mart to kill its toy wish list website.” Willett’s children, the article said, are 4 ½ and 1 ½. The story didn’t say whether the tykes did much Internet surfing or shopping.


     Following Willett’s quote were three other negative quotes about the Wal-Mart site, which is geared toward kids and features animated elves showing off toys. Kids can compile a “wish list” by clicking “yes” for toys they like.


      One anti-elf complaint came from the left-wing Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Wal-Mart is encouraging kids to nag for toys,” the paper quoted the co-founder of CCFC, Susan Linn. That organization also has advocated the regulation of cereal company Web sites, as the Business & Media Institute previously reported.


     Other “consumer groups” featured included Commercial Alert, whose motto is “protecting communities from commercialism,” and Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (TRUCE). 


     The article demonized retailers for taking “aim at the most susceptible target: kids.” Horovitz’s warning list included six ways he claimed stores were targeting kids, such as Web sites, television advertising placement, toys that are linked to popular culture such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Bus Radio advertising, and books marketed with stuffed animals or bracelets.


     USA Today also accused toy manufacturers like Mattel of planning toy shortages. No. 5 on Horovitz’s warning list was “Faux toy shortages,” despite the statement from a Mattel executive who said, “We don’t plan shortages … All that does is make for angry consumers and disappointed customers.”