Disney offers Baby Einstein refunds
Company spokeswoman rails against 'propaganda groups.'
A chastened Disney is offering refunds to consumers who own copies of the company's Baby Einstein videos, bowing to pressure from a parents group that says the video is more likely to turn children into Baby Alfred E. Neumans.
Disney's move allows anyone who bought a Baby Einstein video between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 4, 2009, to get their money back. Alternatively, consumers can trade their DVD in for a Baby Einstein book or CD, or redeem it for a 25% discount on future Baby Einstein purchases. The offer is good through March 4, 2010, and is limited to four per household.
For years, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a group fighting to "reclaim childhood from corporate marketers," has said the videos don't live up to Disney's promises.
In 2006, the CCFC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Disney's claims about the videos' supposed educational benefits amounted to false and deceptive advertising. The complaint pointed out that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV at all for children under 2, regardless of content. The CCFC thus reasoned that the videos may in fact damage, rather than promote, children's intellectual development.
In response to the CCFC's complaint, Baby Einstein agreed to overhaul its marketing materials to eliminate any unsubstantiated claims about the videos' potential benefits. The company also removed parent "testimonials" from its Web site. In light of these actions, the FTC declined to pursue the matter further, a development that left the CCFC "deeply troubled."
Susan Linn, a CCFC director and psychologist, said Disney's latest move is an "acknowledgment that baby videos are not educational." The group's Web site calls the turn of events "another CCFC victory" and re-emphasized the lack of "credible evidence that any screen media is educational for children under 2."
Not going quietly
While the CCFC clearly won the day, Disney isn't going quietly. Susan McLain, the general manager of Baby Einstein, released a statement chock-full of sour grapes, framing the refund arrangement as a last-resort tactic in a war against "propaganda groups taking extreme positions." McLain focused her venom on Linn, asserting that the matter should have been settled after the previous FTC complaint was put to rest, but that Linn's "attacks continued and escalated despite the fact that her assertions have no merit."
The statement closed with the obligatory labeling of the CCFC's actions as a "smear campaign."
The CCFC, based in Boston, operates under the notion that most problems facing children -- including obesity, substance abuse and violence -- can be traced to the rampant commercialization of society. The group seeks to fight the "'me first' attitude" promoted by corporate marketing.
Disney bought Baby Einstein in November 2001, when the company was already a multimillion-dollar franchise. Julie Aigner-Clark, who founded the company in 1997, made headlines two years ago when President George W. Bush pointed her out during his State of the Union address. The recognition seemed arbitrary at best, given that Clark shared the moment with, among others, Wesley Autrey, who leapt in front of a subway train to save a homeless man languishing on the tracks. It was later revealed that Clark's husband contributed more than $5,000 to Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.
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