Welcome to Consumer Reports Advocacy

For 85 years CR has worked for laws and policies that put consumers first. Learn more about CR’s work with policymakers, companies, and consumers to help build a fair and just marketplace at TrustCR.org

Selling America’s Kids: Commercial Pressures on Kids of the 90’s (PART ONE)

The editors of Zillions: Consumer Reports for Kids (formerly Penny Power) have for years monitored TV advertising to kids and published articles on the subject. They commissioned this report to identify other types of commercial pressure on their readers, young people between the ages of 8 and 14. The report was prepared by Consumers Union’s Education Services Division. It surveys trends in marketing directed to kids, and points to problems that should be addressed by parents, schools, and the government.

“It isn’t enough to just advertise on television…. You’ve got to reach kids throughout their day–in school, as they’re shopping in the mall … or at the movies. You’ve got to become part of the fabric of their lives.” –Carol Herman, Senior Vice President, Grey Advertising

The estimated to 30,000 TV ads beamed at kids each year represent the most obvious commercial pressure on children. But they are by no means the only advertising messages kids see, nor even the most troubling. This report looks at five other types of promotions heavily used in recent years–promotions that promise to continue growing in the 90’s.
A Day in the Life of an American Kid

It’s 7 a.m. as America’s kid awakens on Ninja Turtle sheets. He rises, dons Superman underwear, a Dick Tracy T-shirt, and sits down to Nintendo breakfast cereal with his Simpsons bookbag beside him. His sister downs her pink Breakfast With Barbie cereal, ready to pick up her Garfield notebook and catch the school bus.

Characters that win kids’ hearts, from Bart Simpson to Dick Tracy, are used to sell kids everything from T-shirts to frozen pizza. The makers of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for example, have licensed 200 products, including lunch boxes, backpacks, pajamas, pillow sets, jogging suits, shampoo, breakfast cereal, drinking straws, calendars, decals, and a talking toothbrush. In 1989 the Turtles earned more than $350 million from licensing.
In the last few years, licensing has mushroomed: In 1980, sale of licensed products worldwide amounted to $10 billion. In 1989, sales hit more than $64 billion. It permeates the industries producing movies, toys (like Nintendo and Barbie), TV shows (like The Simpsons) –whatever captures kids’ fancy.
Licensing is the epitome of “emotional sell.” Kids’ emotional attachment to a character is transferred to a common product, like a T-shirt. That attachment overrides other considerations, like the quality and price of the T-shirt, or even the need for another T-shirt. The hook is affection–for a favorite show, movie, character. The goal is a purchase. The target is a child. The problem is the pressure to purchase, over and over again, as new shows, movies, characters win their affection.

It’s 9 a.m., and our American kid is in school, settling down to watch a 12-minute news program produced just for kids–with two minutes of ads. Unlike the commercials he sees at home, these are required viewing. The video equipment, as well as the program, Channel One, are provided free to schools by Whittle Communications, with one proviso: Students must watch the program–and the commercials, too.

In School Promotions
In class, his sister just received a “TeenPak” — a plastic bag containing product samples and coupons for Noxema and Tampax — thanks to a marketing agency that promises its corporate clients to “place samples of your brand into the hands of up to two million junior and senior high school students in a controlled classroom environment.”
Certain agencies specialize in promoting products in the schools. Lifetime Learning Systems tells companies: “Now YOU CAN ENTER THE CLASSROOM through custom-made learning materials created with your specific marketing objectives in mind.” Media Management Services “helps companies of all sizes reach educators and students directly through innovative marketing campaigns, specially designed products, creative learning programs and classroom materials.”
The school day progresses. A “Total Health” program from NutraSweet teaches kids to use NutraSweet to control weight. “Wecology” magazine from McDonald’s teaches the ecological advantages of Styrofoam packaging. “Changing,” a booklet from Proctor & Gamble, teaches girls how to use Always, its brand of sanitary pads. Chef Boyardee’s “Good Nutrition” program teaches kids to eat pizza and gives recipes that feature Chef Boyardee products. Colorful posters on classroom bulletin boards advertise Reynolds Wrap, Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Promise margarine, and Bakers Chocolate.
Why do companies provide these materials to schools? “School is … the ideal time to influence attitudes, build long-term loyalties, introduce new products, test market, promote sampling and trial usage and — above all — to generate immediate sales.” (Lifetime Learning System ad directed at companies). “Early brand loyalty. New sources of business. Profitable secondary markets. A positive corporate image.” (Media Management Systems). “High visibility for your product among a closely targeted audience.” (TeenPak).
Schools’ chronic funding shortages lead teachers to welcome free education materials, and schools to join forces with the advertisers to obtain equipment they couldn’t otherwise afford. Unable to win sufficient public funding for their educational role, schools are turning into an advertising medium.

School is out for the day, and our American kid rushes home, grabs a magazine, turns on the TV, and plops down on the couch for heavy-duty advertising pressure. Thousands of commercials a year are beamed at kids. Add to that the growing number of kids’ magazines with paid ads. Some of this advertising spotlights rock celebrities and sports stars who throw their considerable kid-appeal behind products, influencing kids’ product preferences and brand loyalty, sometimes to a tragic degree. In recent months, kids have robbed and even murdered for “status” sneakers endorsed by stars.

Celebrity Endorsements
Celebrities are pitching to kids as never before. Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) and Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains) endorse Pepsi. Both are popular with kids under 17 years old. The rock group New Kids on the Block, very popular with young girls, sells Coke in TV commercials and radio ads. Paula Abdul once endorsed Reeboks in magazine ads that asked: “Don’t you wish you were in her shoes?” She and Michael Jackson now pitch L.A. Gear. Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan, kids’ favorite athletes in a Sports Illustrated for Kids survey, endorse Nike. So do David Robinson, Andre Agassi, and others. Magic Johnson endorses Converse.
Celebrity commercials have particular appeal to kids just entering or in their early teens. Studies point to the conflicts adolescents go through as they separate from their parents and start to forge their own identities — conflicts reflected in ads that question authority or offer popularity as a result of purchasing a product.
Celebrities have endorsed products for decades. However, the “status products” being pushed to kids have never been so costly, and the celebrity commercials have never been so slick. Commercials for $120 Nike sneakers are seen regularly by kids: During the month of May 1990, for example, more Nike commercials were on MTV than on sports shows.
“We made our sunglasses into a hip, must-have item through celebrity emulation,” said a representative of Ray Ban. “Since kids and teens love to emulate stars, wearing our sunglasses gives them an easily recognizable status symbol.” The enormous potential celebrities have to influence kids is mined by the corporate sector, which pays millions to have stars influence kids’ brand preferences and loyalty. The predominant message celebrities are delivering to kids is “buy this.”

The mail arrives, including Nickelodeon magazine for our American kid, and the Sassy Club membership card for his sister. The clubs describe merchandise and give members discount coupons and other enticements to buy.

Kids Clubs
Last year kids’ clubs were introduced by Nickelodeon, Fox, Burger King, Sassy, MTV, and Disney. Most cost money to join — from $5 for the Sassy Club to $12.95 for Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club. We joined and received publications heavy with advertising (especially for club merchandise) from Nickelodeon and MTV. We also received discount coupons for Sassy and MTV club merchandise. Disney sent two coupon booklets for everything from M&M candies to He-Man and Barbie. Burger King’s club sent a coupon for a child’s coach ticket on TWA.
Why are kids’ clubs so popular with advertisers?
Nickelodeon tempts prospective advertisers with: “Share Nickelodeon’s special affinity with kids by associating your product and services with the Nickelodeon Club Card and the Nickelodeon magazine. It’s a relationship that will last a lifetime.”
Fox Kids Club: “There are no holds barred for (advertisers) as long as it is valuable for the kid. They can reach a national audience in one swoop.”
MTV: “The magalog is another way for MTV and its advertisers to reach our audience of young viewers.”
An ad agency: “You’re developing a relationship with a customer over time, which is very valuable, and the customer is paying for it.”

It’s early Friday evening, and our American kid, his sister and friends head out to the movie theater. They see a Coke commercial before the movie starts. Will the kids have a three-hour respite from the commercial barrage of the day as they watch a double-feature? Not with Domino’s Pizza, Pepsi, and Burger King as part of the action in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nor with Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes prominently featured in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Product Placement
Promotional placement of brand-name products in movies is growing rapidly. Producers charge from $10,000 to $1,000,000, depending on how the product is shown. Since kids are major consumers of movies (kids 12 to 17 attend movies twice as often as the over-18 crowd), they are an important audience for these promotional messages.
Coke, the on-screen sponsor of Tom Cruise’s race car in Days of Thunder, plans a multi-million dollar promotion around the movie. Pepsi placed its products in such films as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Flashdance, Back to the Future II, and Big.
Burger King appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Gremlins; McDonald’s in Mac and Me and Dick Tracy; Domino’s Pizza in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; and Pizza Hut in Back to the Future II.
Because of their high-volume sales, fast-food chains can help promote the movies they’re placed in. Burger King conducted a promotional campaign around the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie before its release. McDonald’s did the same with The Little Mermaid and Dick Tracy.
Cigarettes are in the act, too. In 1989, Marlboro cigarettes appeared in such movies as Crocodile Dundee, Superman II, Baby, and Risky Business. Camel cigarettes were in Desperately Seeking Susan and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In that year, cigarette smoking was shown in 83 percent of films kids were likely to watch. Cigarettes placed in movies are presented in a positive light, without health warnings.
Product placement creates brand-name familiarity, lends status-appeal to products, and promotes products in the guise of something other than advertising.

It’s 10 p.m., and our American kid is curled up in bed, solving a maze in a kids’ magazine. Is he finally safe from commercial messages? No. The maze itself is an ad for Hershey’s chocolate.

One way to get kids to read a magazine ad and spend time with it is to make it look like a game, puzzle, advice column, comic strip — anything but an ad. This type of advertising is increasingly common in children’s publications. 3-2-1 Contact and Kid City (once ad-free) carried ads disguised as games for Hershey’s Chocolate and Colgate Junior. Foot Locker ads in Sports Illustrated for Kids looked like sports quizzes and hidden-object puzzles. Seventeen magazine’s “Ask Loren” columns, promising “your personal answers to questions about make-up and fashion,” were really ads for Epilady products. A Popeye comic in four different kids’ magazines was really an ad for Instant Quaker Oatmeal.
Disguising promotions as games and comics makes it harder for kids to be skeptical of advertising messages.
Promotional campaigns and commercial messages permeate most waking hours of our children’s lives. Many messages are hidden, appearing to be a school lesson, a kids’ club, an entertaining movie, a magazine game or puzzle. Advertisers are attuned to kids’ developmental stages — to their need for peer approval, status, independence. The overwhelming message is that things make the person; that what’s important is what you have, not who you are.
These pressures influence children’s development as citizens, as well as consumers. The barrage of advertising encourages continuous consumption and acquisition at the expense of reasoned decision-making, thrift, and environmental sensitivity. At a time when kids need to learn how to consume thoughtfully, numerous promotional messages are teaching the opposite.
In 1989, Whittle Communications began testing Channel One in schools. This 12-minute daily news program for kids — with commercials — sparked national controversy over whether advertising should be permitted in schools. On the one hand, schools were offered not only free broadcasts produced for kids, but also free equipment. On the other hand, they had to promise to make the programs and the commercials required viewing. Channel One was defended as a bonanza for money-starved schools, and was opposed as a perversion of the education process, a device to turn schools into dispensers of commercial propaganda.
But Channel One is just the tip of the iceberg. Corporate-sponsored teaching materials are reaching more than 20 million students in elementary and high schools every year. Product samples and coupons are distributed to more than two million students. TV commercials and magazine ads in the classroom reach countless millions more. This report describes some current advertising messages and how they’re “packaged” in order to gain entry into schools.
Who Advertises In Our Schools?
This list of 234 companies includes corporate exhibitors at education conferences, corporate clients of teaching-materials companies, and advertisers in classroom magazines.
Agencies Targeting Schools
Industry ads reveal the promotional nature of teaching materials produced for corporate clients. One ad said: “Kids spend 40% of each day in the classroom where traditional advertising can’t reach them. Now YOU CAN ENTER THE CLASSROOM through custom-made learning materials with your specific marketing objectives in mind …” Agencies that specialize in the school market include:

  • Lifetime Learning Systems (Fairfield, Connecticut), founded in 1978, claims to have developed over 500 classroom programs. Its brochure invites advertisers to “take your message into the classroom, where the young people you want to reach are forming attitudes that will last a lifetime.” Claims Lifetime Learning Systems, “school is the perfect time to communicate to young people directly … the ideal time to influence attitudes, build long-term loyalties, introduce new products, test market, promote sampling and trial usage and&emdash; above all&emdash;to generate immediate sales.”
  • Media Management Systems (Yardley, Pennsylvania) offers to help “companies of all sizes reach educators and students directly, through innovative marketing campaigns, specially designed products, creative learning programs and classroom materials. The results? High visibility. Early brand loyalty. New sources of business. Profitable secondary markets. A positive corporate image.”
  • Whittle Communications (Knoxville, Tennessee) offers both print and television vehicles for advertising, including magazines, wall posters and Channel One, the controversial sponsored news program. Whittle recently announced that Channel One had sold $200 million worth of advertising, and he predicts that it will be seen by more than six million kids daily by 1991.
  • Cover Concepts Marketing Services, Inc. (Massachusetts) has signed up high schools in 99 cities to receive four million free book covers “plastered with ads,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “The cost to advertisers ranges from $25,000 to $195,000 … For their money, they get a captive audience.”
  • Modern’s TeenPak (St. Petersburg, Florida) is a product-sampling program that distributes packets of merchandise to two million junior and senior high school students “in a focused classroom setting.” TeenPak promises clients that they can select their preferred audience by gender or by school type and offers “high visibility for your product among a closely targeted audience.” Merchandise ranges from feminine hygiene products to snack foods.

Ads In The Classroom
The recent controversy over allowing TV commercials in the classroom creates the illusion that schools resist the commercialization of the classroom. But schools do not object to buying classroom magazines that carry advertising, or to giving students free magazines with ads. “When you advertise in Scholastic,” claims a trade journal ad, “you’re … inside the classroom, reaching 43% of all teenage students in America.” Sponsored TV media programs like Channel One are gaining entry, as are ad-bearing book covers. Specific classroom programs that carry advertising directly to students are listed in the following charts.



(per year)






Air Force Reserve, Citibank, Cliff Notes, Fleet/Norstar Financial Group, Smith Corona, Air Force Academy, 16 colleges & universities, Stanley H. Kaplan, Giftmaster, Inc., Bank of America, U.S. Navy.

High School Sports



Reebok’s Pump, Clearasil, Pony sneakers, ESPN, a business school, Strength System Footwear, Basketball Hall of Fame, Columbia House cassette/CD club, Army Reserve, Pepsi.

GO! (Girls Only) (Whittle magazine)


“Personal Products Co. is the sole advertiser”&emdash; Sure & Natural, Stayfree

Sports Illustrated for Kids

free to selected schools (Literacy Program)

Russell Athletic, Sugar Daddy, Time Warner, Huffy, SI for Kids Gear, Crest, Toys ‘R’ Us, Chicklets, Hyatt Regency, Hershey’s, Women’s Sports Foundation, M&M’s, Pepsi.

Scholastic Choices


$5.50 per student

Maybelline, U.S. Army, Russell Athletic, Smith Corona, U.S. Air Force, Cover Girl

Scholastic Science World


$5.95 per student

Spaceballs (movie), Smith Corona, Army ROTC, U.S. Air Force, Maybelline, Army National Guard, KAY Jewelers, Cover Girl.

Junior Scholastic


$5.25 per student

NBA Hoops basketball cards, American Society of Civil Engineers, Russell Athletic.

Whittle’s Channel One

(TV news for kids)


Gives a satellite dish,

2 VCRs & TV sets.

Two minutes of each 12-minute show are paid commercials, which students are required to watch. (Levi’s, Head & Shoulders were in test, but didn’t renew.)


(news videos tapes)


A new venture. News videos don’t have ads, but wall posters do.

Corporate-Sponsored Teaching Materials
More than 20 million students a year use corporate-sponsored teaching materials in school. Are they being taught, or are they being sold? We reviewed a random selection of 18 programs. If the materials mentioned the sponsor’s brand-name products, gave incomplete or inaccurate information, or encouraged purchasing via coupons, brand-specific recipes, or free samples, they were judged to be promotional.





Polaroid Education Program

(lesson book, camera — “A visual approach to teaching basic skills.”)


Mentions “Polaroid” in every lesson and assignment, and requires 10 proofs of film purchase for the camera.


Corkers (bulletin board ideas) & Teaching Tips from Kodak (tips from teachers on using photography to teach)


Encourages taking photos but never mentions “Kodak.”

Chef Boyardee

Teach … Good Nutrition

(Sets of reproducible masters)


Has its name and logo on every master; names its products in all recipes; and just encourages kids to eat pizza (no nutrition education).


Nutrient Pursuit (poster and activity to teach the four basic food groups)


Its name isn’t on the materials, but its logo is on the masters. Nutrition education is weak.

Wecololgy (kids’ magazine in class sets)


Gives self-serving misinformation about how recyclable foam packaging is.


Total Health (reproducible masters for six activities)


Pushes using NutraSweet by name to control weight, and omits any warnings about its safety. Also, its name and logo are on every master.


Mysteries of Me (lesson plans and masters for three activities)


Pushes using Tampax by name, gives girls a coupon to order a $3 starter kit or a free sample, and has its name on the poster.

Procter & Gamble

Perspectives (case studies of P&G’s past to teach economics and history)


Builds P&G’s image and talks about its products, but doesn’t “sell.”

Food Preparation (booklet and worksheets)


Uses P&G brand-name products in recipes, and includes coupons for free P&G products “for demonstrations/discussions.”

Personal Care (worksheets and teaching guide)


Mentions P&G brands in the teaching guide and provides coupons for free P&G products.

Changing: A Booklet for Girls (class sets. A different booklet for boys)


Teaches how to use Always pads by name; advertises Always on back cover; comes with free sample of Always.

Colgate Palmolive

Superstar Magic Club dental health program (poster, teaching guide, and packets for kids, grades 1 & 2, to bring home)


Colgate name is on the poster, guide, and packet&emdash; even on the toy ring inside.

Gerber Products Company

Take a Close Look at Baby Foods

(8-page teaching material)


Teaches the Gerber feeding plan by name; promotes Gerber products; shows Gerber products on cover and several pages; omits teaching alternatives to using prepared baby foods.

Reynolds Wrap

“Preserve Freshness and Flavor with The Best Wrap Around” poster with teaching guide on back


Shows more than 30 foods wrapped in aluminum foil; says “Freeze in it! Cook in it! Store in it!” All information pushes using foil.

Almond Board of California

“Everybody’s Nuts About Almonds” poster with teaching guide on back


Shows only almonds and package; “Nutrition” teaching guide shows why almonds are nutritionally superior to other nuts, including peanuts, and why they’re so healthy&emdash; one-sided and misleading.

General Foods Birds Eye

“The Vegetable Connection” poster with nutrition claims and nutrition info for frozen vegetables


Shows brand name on poster; implies health claims for vegetables are for frozen vegetables&emdash; doesn’t reveal how frozen compare with fresh.

Promise Spread

“Promise Yourself a Healthy Heart” poster with teaching guide on back


Charts foods’ cholesterol content showing four Promise products to be best; Says to substitute Promise Spread for butter; shows large Promise package. Promise products are named in word search and in recipes.

General Foods

Bakers Chocolate “The Chocolateville Gazzette” poster with guide on back


Shows six Bakers products and tons of chocolate; Bakers products are named in word search and in recipes.

Guidelines for business-sponsored materials were prepared in 1982 by the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, and later updated by several consumer organizations. The guidelines set voluntary standards for business to follow in producing education materials. They specifically advise against including sponsors’ brand names and corporate identification in text and illustrations. Seventeen of the 18 programs reviewed above violated that guideline.
Schools and school districts have thorough review processes for selecting textbook programs, but those don’t apply to the kinds of materials provided by the corporate sector. Schools and school districts control how money is spent on educational materials. But educational review processes usually don’t apply when the instructional material is free or inexpensive. Voluntary guidelines and standards for business-sponsored materials exist, but we found no evidence of their effectiveness. At present, most schools have no “safety net” to screen out materials that sell rather than teach.
Marketing Objectives
Another way of judging whether corporate-sponsored materials are promotional is to look at their stated objectives. The following objectives were cited by Lifetime Learning Systems, which produced the teaching materials listed.




General Mills

To “introduce Fruit Roll-Ups to preschool children and their parents.”

Grow Up! (charts, booklets, samples to teach “fruit and nutrition”)


To “create national awareness of Bic’s leadership as a manufacturer of quality writing instruments and strengthen Bic’s positive corporate image in the educational cumunity.”

Quality Comes in Writing (to teach student writing skills)

Lederle Laboratories

To “introduce Centrum Jr. multivitavims to pre-teens and their parents.”

Vitamins for Life (to teach the importance of vitamins and minerals to grades 4 to 6)

Northeast Utilities

To “re-educate consumers to the realities of the energy crisis and increase public support for nuclear power development.”

Energy: It’s Your Choice (mulitimedia series for elementary, junior high and high school students)

In the process of investigating corporate presence in schools, we found several companies that created incentive programs to put their products directly into the schools, or in other ways got schools to encourage purchase of their product. Those companies include:
Four thousand teachers of junior and senior high girls are distributing 530,000 product samples and coupons for Tampax and Noxema to their students for no apparent incentive, through a new marketing program called TeenPak, offered by Modern Direct. This company has developed a database of teachers willing to distribute the samples, and plans to expand the TeenPaks to contain five samples/coupons, to address boys as well as girls, and to reach 2.3 million kids altogether.
Schools’ chronic shortage of funding for learning materials has led teachers to welcome free education materials. Teachers are continually looking for new and interesting materials to motivate students, but they have little money. On a larger scale, schools are bartering students’ ability to make rational marketplace choices in exchange for equipment they couldn’t otherwise afford.
The result: Schools are becoming heavily sponsored by corporations marketing products. They’re “selling” the kids entrusted to them to any bidder. Sponsored materials’ advertising is disguised as educational materials, which kids are less likely to question.
Consumer education entails empowering students to make choices that are best for them — choices that may involve learning about alternatives like buying less or not buying. The student’s interest is served by encouraging inquisitiveness, healthy skepticism, brand disloyalty, and the ability to say “No, I don’t need or want that product.” Corporate-sponsored materials are unlikely to teach such lessons.
Of all the advertising that goes on in schools, ads in classroom magazines schools buy are the most straightforward. But problems persist: The school is a silent partner in advertising to kids, contributing to the commercial pressures on kids and implying endorsement of the products advertised.
The bottom line for kids is simple: They are being subjected to marketing messages in school — some hidden, some obvious, but all quite powerful. The place where they might be learning how to deal with commercial pressures is thrusting more commercial pressure on them.
Developmental studies point to pre- and early adolescence as the age when children are most receptive to peer pressure. Indeed, the news media lately have described and deplored the peer pressure that makes costly sneakers and clothing items “must have’s” for many kids &emdash; to the point that a few kids have robbed and murdered to get them.
Celebrities have endorsed products for decades. But they’ve never hawked such expensive “status” products. Nike’s $120 Air Jordans, are not something kids can buy with their allowance. Yet celebrity campaigns for Nike, Converse, L.A. Gear and Reebok are linking these costly products to status and other things that matter a lot to kids. This report describes how.
The Celebrities
Celebrities who have a big kid-following, or athletes kids think are “cool” attract kids’ attention. Using such celebrities in ad campaigns signals an intention to target kids.

  • L.A. Gear added Paula Abdul (who formerly represented Reebok) to a celebrity lineup that includes Michael Jackson, whose own line of L.A. Gear shoes will be introduced this summer “to coincide with the back-to-school season.” Both stars are part of a $60 million promotion campaign called “Unstoppable.” L.A. Gear also sponsored an MTV Museum of Rock & Roll show that traveled to hundreds of malls, well-known teen hang-outs.
  • Reebok is in negotiation with Madonna. It has also associated its product with Nintendo, one of the most popular kid games, by becoming a sponsor of the Nintendo World Championships and advertising that relationship to kids on Saturday morning TV and other children’s programming.
  • Nike is also spending approximately $60 million on advertising campaigns featuring Spike Lee, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Bo Jackson, Andre Agassi, and John McEnroe, among others. (According to a recent study by the Girl Scouts of America, Michael Jordan is one of the three living Americans whom kids most admire.)
  • Converse will spend $10 million on advertising and promotion for a line of athletic shoes and clothes endorsed by Magic Johnson.

The Messages
Loud rock music, rock stars, video games, and “teen-age rebellion” typify adolescent cultures. Using these themes are ways of attracting and communicating with adolescents. According to these simple criteria, most of the high-priced-sneaker commercials using celebrities deliver strong messages to kids, as the chart below shows:







Flintstones Kids

Strong: In double-dutch video game, Nintendo girl flubs first attempt, then puts on Reeboks, scores 6560 points and wins.



Friday Night Videos, Sat. Edition

Strong: In basketball video game, coach calls time, shows Reebok, Nintendo kid dunks winning shot, cheerleaders cheer.


Pat Riley


Weak: LA Lakers former coach Pat Riley and players demonstrate the Pump.


Spike Lee

Michael Jordan

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Strong: Loud rock music, fast cuts saying just kick, bounce, spike, zap, smash it.


David Robinson


Moderate: Mostly music. Cuts between dunking, playing piano, and Nike Force.


David Robinson


Strong: Makes fun of authority figure Coach Brown (“Don’t think we’re gonna have Coach on the show anymore…”)


John McEnroe

Andre Agassi


Strong: Makes fun of authority figure giving tennis lesson, uses loud rock music.


Magic Johnson

America’s Favorite Home Videos

Moderate: Mostly music, fast cuts to playing hoops, a girl, status license plate, antique car, Converse.


Paula Abdul

Sports Illustrated

for Kids (magazine)

Strong: “Millions of girls want to be in her shoes. But she wants to be in ours.”


Magic Johnson

SI for Kids (magazine)

Strong: Advice Q & A with an 8 year old boy.

Read Part Two of this Report.