HIGHTOWER: Children's Ads in Cyberspace

It's 1997 -- Do you know who's soliciting your children?Brand-name marketers, that's who, creeping into your home through the wide-open window of your computer, getting your children to reveal private consumer information about your family and manipulating them to demand the companies' products.Many special web-sites target children, luring them with games, prizes and other fun. But to play at a computer playground called KidsCom, for example, the kids first have to disclose their name, age, sex and E-mail address. They are also asked their favorite TV shows and commercials, plus the name of the child who referred them to KidsCom.Once the boys and girls enter one of these corporate playgrounds, they begin receiving unsolicited E-mail messages from the company urging them to return again and again, promising them exciting gifts and new activities. These web-sites are very sophisticated, enticing your kiddos to interact with Oscar Mayer's "Wienermobile," Kellogg's "Tony the Tiger," Frito-Lay's "Chester Cheetah" and dozens of other lovable animated spokescharacters, which not only "speak" to the kids on-line, but also play games with them, sing the company's jingles and generally develop a "virtual relationship" designed to make the youngsters loyal to the brands these characters represent.Then to put this brand-loyalty to immediate use, children's merchandise is conveniently available to the little nippers through "The Disney Store," "The Kellogg General Store" and other on-line, click-and-buy shops.Shouldn't children play with other children, instead of with advertisements? You wouldn't let your youngsters play on the highway, so why risk their getting run-over by slick marketers on the information superhighway.Stop this manipulation and invasion of privacy, contact the Center for Media Education: 202/628-2620.

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