Exclusive: Anti-kid vid group ponders forcing name change for all 'Baby Einstein' videos
Oct 26th 2009 8:15PM
Updated Oct 26th 2009 9:08PM
Call it the E = MC squareoff.
Bolstered by its successful anti-screen media campaign that led Baby Einstein to offer a refund for its kid videos, leaders at a Boston-Based non-profit are weighing whether to fight on -- and demand that Walt Disney Company drop "Einstein" from the name altogether, WalletPop has learned in an exclusive.
"We absolutely think they should change the name, but we haven't decided yet what we're going to do with our campaign," says Josh Golin, associate director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). "We also think that Hebrew University, which licenses the rights to the Einstein name, should reconsider what kind of product they want his name associated with."
At issue for CCFC is whether it thinks continued use of "Einstein" in the megabrand's moniker constitutes a continuing claim of educational value in the videos, targeted largely at kids aged five and under. While "pleased" with Disney's offer to refund $15.99 each for up to four Baby Einstein videos, Golin says he'll watch the campaign closely "to see how things play out."
Also at stake: an estimated $200 million that Baby Einstein rakes in from its 90% share of the baby media market, according to CCFC figures gleaned from the Washington Post and Business week.
Should Disney choose to aggressively market around the refund campaign -- not so far a stretch considering how the company piled on publicity counter-spin in the wake of Miley Cyrus' repeated embarrassments with racy photos --- that might leave CCFC no choice but to join the battle at a higher legal level.
Golin stresses that it's "too soon to tell" when his group will announce its next move, but he won't rule out a return to court, because, as he put it, "When these videos took off, someone, whether it was [Baby Einstein founder Julie-Aigner Clark] or the folks at Disney, should have taken a look at these claims of their being educational -- and asked themselves whether there was any evidence to back them up."
In fact, the videos -- with smart-sounding titles such as "Baby Shakespeare" and "Baby Mozart" -- seem anything but smart in terms of developing kids' intelligence. "The research out there is very clear: they don't have any educational benefit," Golin says. "One study showed irregular sleep patterns in kids who watch these videos; another one adverse language development; and another shows kids watching videos spent less time interacting with parents."
He adds: "There's not enough evidence to say that these turn anyone into Baby Moron. But we wanted parents to make decisions based on real information and not hype."
Representatives for Baby Einstein have been contentious in defending themselves against the charges of CCFC and its director, Susan Linn--including in their latest statement obtained by WalletPop in response to this story.
"Susan Linn herself admits she's beating up on our brand for the purpose of raising money to pursue her personal agenda. Millions of consumers around the world continue to trust and enjoy Baby Einstein products and reject her point of view," a Baby Einstein spokesperson said.
"Unfortunately, with Susan Linn's latest stunt, we cannot be silent any longer," reads a statement on the Baby Einstein web site in reaction to CCFC's anti-kidvid campaigning. "Linn's obvious dislike for Baby Einstein has now turned into a sensational, headline-grabbing publicity campaign that seeks to twist and spin a simple, customer satisfaction action into a false admission of guilt. This is clearly not the case."
The statement, attributed to Baby Einstein Vice President & General Manager Susan McLain, acknowledges that the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any video watching in kids under the age of two, yet takes issue with that advice. "While we respect the American Academy of Pediatrics, we do not believe that their recommendation of no television for children under the age of two reflects the reality of today's parents, families and households -- for example, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 68% of all babies under two years old watch screen media on any given day."
Yet a recent New York Times article by Tamar Lewin on the Baby Einstein issue has a Kaiser executive taking a skeptical look at the brand's educational claims. "When attention got focused on this issue a few years ago, a lot of companies became more cautious about what they claimed," said Vicky Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, in the Times piece. "But even if the word 'education' isn't there, there's a clear implication of educational benefits in a lot of the marketing."
And so, as the pontificating, finger-pointing and parental pondering continue, one thing remains certain: The two biggest stakeholders in the ongoing story will have no say at all.
That would be toddlers everywhere ... and the late Albert Einstein.