May 11th, 2012
To Mike Lupica and Philomel Books: No More Sneaky Advertising in Your Books for Children.
By Susan Linn
Commercials in children’s books? You must be kidding. No wait, it’s true. Last fall, The Underdogs, a book for elementary school children written by Mike Lupica and published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, prominently featured the New Balance Shoe Company, its president, and the 897 cleat--a New Balance shoe. Tucked into copies of the book sold in bookstores around the country was a bookmark advertising the 897 cleat “as worn by Will Tyler in Mike Lupica’s The Underdogs.” Children were directed to find the shoe at shopnewbalance.com or to visit their local New Balance Store.
The promotional bookmark, in combination with the integration of New Balance into the plot of The Underdogs, smacks of the kind of product integration and “host selling” that is currently banned on children’s television programming. Children’s television programs are prohibited from embedding advertising in their narratives or using “program talent or other identifiable program characteristics to deliver commercials” during or adjacent to programming featuring that character. For instance, commercials featuring Spongebob Squarepants touting a product can’t appear right before or after the cartoon is aired. Nor can that product be featured in the show. Until The Underdogs, children’s books by respected authors have also been free of that type of insidious advertising.