Are Young Kids Seeing Too Much Advertising for PG-13 Films?

June 6, 2008
Source: LA Times

Are Young Kids Seeing Too Much Advertising for PG-13 Films?

I was forwarded a rather interesting article found in the Los Angeles Times earlier today that I wanted to discuss. Written by John Horn, the article Teen flicks targeted at children criticizes recent advertising campaigns that attempt to lure young kids into violent PG-13 films. It's a hard topic to talk about considering I don't have any children myself, however I think the article brings up a rather interesting topic of discussion. While I can't necessarily comment on parental concerns, I believe cinematic experiences are an important part of childhood. And what comes into question is the fine line that both Hollywood studios and toy manufacturers need to walk when developing a franchise and marketing it. While I can't cite specific instances, I don't think there is an issue with their marketing this time.

John points out that commercials for toys and branded products are luring kids into these PG-13 films with marketing that goes beyond the guidelines setup by the MPAA and FTC. The big issue here was outlined by a statement FTC Associate Director Mary Engl made in a letter addressed to the MPAA and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "Since its first report [in 2000] on the marketing of violent entertainment to children, the Commission has expressed concern that target marketing of violent movies, including movies rated PG-13, directly to children constitutes an 'end run around the parental review role underlying the ratings.'" Although John brings up an interesting discussion with his article, I feel like he hasn't delved deep enough into the scenario.

The point here that I think the article is missing entirely is the idea that branded items and toys are an integral part of a child's life. It's hard for me to reference since I'm no longer a kid, but just look at Spider-Man 3. The idea of Spider-Man and that character is a fan favorite amongst youngsters. The movie is a rather violent PG-13 flick, but that doesn't mean children can't love the character and buy up as many toys, shirts, and accessories as their parents will allow. And with these other films, that character branding is really what they're trying aiming for. It's hard to make this claim, but I'd say that kids don't really need to see a movie to become a fan of a particular character.

I would be thrilled if my kid (that I don't have yet), however old he might be, became an Indiana Jones fan. Even if I had never taken him to see the new movie, if he wanted the toys and wanted to imagine himself as Indy, I'd be all for it. It's that imagination that we embrace with these branded products and toys and it's that point that I think John is missing entirely in his article. I know for certain that I am the man I am today because of the influences in my childhood related to movies. If my dad and brother hadn't shown me Star Wars or Indiana Jones or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Mighty Ducks, I would have never become the geek I am today (yes, I admit it). But alas, it wasn't about the ratings when I saw those movies, it was about the idea and the character(s).


In fact, the PG-13 rating simply stands for "Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13." It doesn't specifically say that kids under 13 should not be allowed to see the movie. Instead, it's actually entirely up to the parents to determine whether their children can handle the material shown in the movie. (You can read more on the MPAA's guidelines for the rating on their website.) The PG-13 rating is much more of a warning than it is a restriction. Which is why I don't think it's up to the marketer's to have their material censored when they're simply trying to building their brand and sell products. In a situation where a young kid has a desire to see a violent PG-13 movie like The Incredible Hulk, I don't think the advertiser's are to blame, I think it's still up to the parents to make the decision.

The best part of the article is at the end, where John outlines various fights between the FTC, MPAA, and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The CCFC has been complaining publicly about the increased amount of violent PG-13 ads targeted at kids under 13. Eventually the MPAA got tired of it and told them to stop complaining and stop writing letters. "'The PG-13 rating is not a restrictive rating and admission is permitted by -- and often may be appropriate for -- children younger than 13,' MPAA general counsel Gregory Goeckner wrote, since the rating does not prohibit anyone, no matter how young, from buying a ticket. Advertising for PG-13 films, he said, 'is reviewed for appropriateness for the audience expected to view the individual ad, taking into account both the content of the ad and the content of the motion picture.'" Take that Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood!

If you're curious to read more about this topic, then make sure you read John's article on LATimes.com. Most of the considerations regarding marketing are completely out of my hands, both in regards to the decisions Hollywood makes and the decisions parents make. All I know is that sometimes some parents take complaints about violence much too far. I can't exactly say whether I would approve The Incredible Hulk for a 5-year-old, but I can tell you that I encourage as much movie-going as possible. It's not a bad thing to embrace the imaginative mind of young kids, which is why it's important they become immersed in the world of cinema. However, it's up to the parents in the end to make the final decisions.

Find more posts: Discuss, Editorial, Opinions



The MPAA ratings are a guideline, not an iron-clad rule. If I think my kid can handle watching the Hulk without getting scared, then we'll go see the Hulk. I agree that PG-13 films are getting progressively more violent and sexual compared to where they are a decade ago, but I think that also reflects the culture. The bottom line is that it's up to the parents to decide what content is suitable for their children. I don't care how aggressively it's being marketed to my kids - if I don't want them to watch it, guess what? We're not watching it.

Tom Brazelton on Jun 6, 2008


This is America. TRUE LIES is a family film. IRON MAN was seen by kids, BATMAN was seen by kids, FREDDY vs. JASON was seen by kids. Parents took their kids to the films. PG-13 is not, as the article says, a restrictive rating. I'm sure the MPAA would love to get rid of R as a restrictive rating too, because it would mean more money for the MPAA. The LAT must be really bored to run an article like this one... must be the absence of any tentpoles this week.

Andrew Wickliffe on Jun 6, 2008


As I said on another post, Marvel Entertainment produces an entire spectrum of material that can keep these antsy kids at bay until they're old enough to see the movies. Hulk, Iron Man, Spider Man all have cartoons and dvds, not to mention the Marvel Adventures line of kid-friendly comics. If parents can't discriminate age appropriate material when the companies are handing it right to them, then they need to take a look at their own ability to discipline their own kids in the home. PERIOD.

Djo on Jun 6, 2008


I don't think superhero films are the issue, and not really the culprit. I get the idea that movies like Spider-Man, Hulk Etc.. are going to have advertising directed towards kids but they also have cartoons that the kids can relate to. It's when as Andrew (#2) brought up, kids are taken to see Freddy Vs Jason or AVP2 that is the problem, and even then it's not a HUGE issue. Honestly as a parent it bugs me to be in a pg-13 or R movie and see kids that same age or younger than my own walk in the theater. That's why I screen the movies first to see if anything would disturb the kids and if not we go to see it. I'm not going to ruin the experience for my kids or other movies patrons because I have to walk my kid out during an objectionable scene. In the end it more about responsible parenting (there's an idea) if you have to question whether or not you kid should see something don't take them; get a sitter and go by yourselves later. Regardless of what advertising they see or what breakfast cereal, soda, or bag of snacks has movie characters on it, it really is ok to tell your kid "no you can't see that."

Rob on Jun 6, 2008


Being in Canada, the films are re-rated by a provincial board before they are released in theatres. Depending on the content of the film, PG-13 films usually end up with either a PG or 14A rating. I just looked up the Hulk's rating on the OFRB website (http://www.ofrb.gov.on.ca) and it received a PG rating here in Ontario. That just makes this whole argument a lot more confusing.

Sean Kelly on Jun 6, 2008


Scared parents denying their kids Hulk hands, because a movie is too scary for them at that age? Rubbish. I will relay, though, that I told my sister not to let my 10 yr. old nephew see Iron Man just yet. I was thinking of the Leslie Bibb scene, but then I saw it again and I though - hell yeah. Every growing boy should know what a pimp Tony Stark is. If I was able to get through Akira, Twin Peaks, and Eraserhead when I was ten, and all it really did was compel me to become an artist - then yeah, I think kids can take Tony's pimping ways with a grain of salt. Overall, what it comes down to is kids are alot smarter than we give them credit for - and just b/c they see something doesn't mean they'll even imitate it or idolize it. And even if they do, it comes down to your own responsible parenting to see that their fantasy-play etc. doesn't get out of hand. These parents should just take their kids to the Incredible Hulk. He needs their seats.

Djoser on Jun 6, 2008


Tony Stark is a pimp. ^-^

Nettle on Jun 6, 2008


Parents hold the responsibility. There are always plenty of PG and G rated films to take your kids too. And most little kids are happy with watching DVD's of old movies. I babysat some kids once and we watched Shrek 3 times in a row.

Neal on Jun 6, 2008


My 2 young sons have never seen Star Wars, but love light sabers, Star Wars figures, and anything Darth Vader. They don't need the movie to love the characters.

tommyturner on Jun 6, 2008


It is definitely up to parents because each child is different. I think the real issue here is that a PG13 rating today is very different from where it was years ago so there are more parents who are hesitant to let their younger children see a PG13 movie or the hype surrounding it. If Spiderman was a movie when we were kids do you really think our parents would have let kids see it? Doubtful. Sure they would have bought the toys but the movie probably would have been off limits to most. Yes, the rating system has a lot of problems but in a lot of situations parents are just too busy to know everything about a movie that is coming out so all they really have to go by is the rating. I have a cousin with children who are 9 and 6 and she won't let them watch any PG13 movie. That's the rule because she doesn't want to have to screen every movie first. She was pretty upset when she went to see the Chronicles of Narnia (PG) because she felt that was a movie that was given an inappropriate rating and it should have been PG13 because of the violence at the end. This is an awkward situation because it really scared her 6yr old who had nightmares. There are a lot of parents who are trying to protect their children from adult influences but the entertainment industry isn't really helping and they're not all to blame because as someone said earlier it is all society and culture. Although, it's also frustrating because how many of you would characterize children today as growing up too fast? Well this could be a reason why.

Janet on Jun 6, 2008


I wanted to add one thing...last week I saw Sex and the City and Iron Man. In Sex and the City I was horrified by a group of women who brought their daughters who were probably between 13-16. In Iron Man I saw one man with two younger children both had to be under 10. I thought Iron Man was a little more violent or graphic then other comic movies so I didn't agree with that personally.

Janet on Jun 6, 2008


i was once in a vet clinic and at the reception area, the movie 300 was playing at the tv... two kids (a 10 and 9 i think) were eagerly watching the fight scenes... these boys mom kept on telling them not to watch it and to my surprise the 10-year old kid replied, "it's alright mom, i'm not taking it in" and he turns to his younger brother and said "don't take it in"... the next thing i knew, i saw my self with this grin on my face looking at the kid... guess, when it comes to all these movie restrictions/warnings, it all boils down to the capacity of the parent(s) to distinguish what movie are for his kids and what are not, and understanding his/her kids capacity to understand... as for the aggressive marketing (especially for comic book heroes), keep it coming the "kid" in me enjoys it every last mo of it...

miracle disease on Jun 6, 2008


3/4 of the blockbusters today are comic book related, i won't blame advertisers for doing that.

Darrin on Jun 6, 2008


i was particularly disturbed by all the boardgames and toys being bought out by this, the Hulk is a being bought out by Rage and is prone to destruction, this is not Captain America or Spider-man, he doesn't inspire and saves the day, he is suppose to be a tragedy, a genius passive mind trapped in the body of a mindless destructive monster, aren't kids destructive enough already without being motivated? the Hulk is a loner and a monster and now thanks to Joe Quesada and Brian Michael Bendis he is a mass murderer, to glorify him as a lovable green beast is scary, especially with the "Spider-man and Friends" Hulk toys what's next Punisher cereal and toy machine guns? maybe a Deadpool makeup kit and plastic Katana.

The Delightful Deviant on Jun 6, 2008


Its all up to the parents Alex and quite frankly most are idiots. It takes a second to look up the film and make a decision. Kidsinmind.com commonsensemedia.com I mean come on!

Ryan on Jun 6, 2008


Re: Delightful deviant- You're perfectly entitled to raise your kids the way you want, and impose on them the limits that you choose. If your child is full of rage, maybe you should spend more time reading with or playing sports with them. Realistically, though, I have no right to tell you how to raise your kids, much in the manner that your concerns for your own child can't prevent those children who are raised to see fictional characters like the Hulk as entertainment, as opposed to idolizing or imitating them. If you take the Marvel heroes and the DC heroes and line them up in front of kids, you'll see each kid pick out their favorite one. Often, kids who have a sense of powerlessness or weakness are drawn to the Hulk, b/c he embodies their desire to lash out and unleash the hidden power they hold within themselves. In the end, the Incredible Hulk is an allegory about converting anger into courage - and you'll see in interviews that Ed Norton has zeroed in on exactly that lesson, which has always been an essential part of the Hulk mythos. The Hulk IS a hero- he is the hero within all of us. I'd say that's a pretty good lesson to impart on little kids who feel powerless - don't you? And judging from the way my nephew is forming his own sense of self apart from the teasing of his older brother, able to make new friends in his neighborhood, command a room and entertain adults, and generally not give in to his older brother's teasing ways - I'd say the Hulk is a natural fit. Not surprisingly, he's chosen the Hulk as his favorite super hero, at the ripe age of 4. There are plenty of incarnations of the Hulk that are not Monster-like, but more the misunderstood hero, wielding immeasurable power with the simplistic mind of a child. As long as the Hulk comes out on top, and channels his rage into a victory over evil, I think he really embodies a necessary relief to children (and adults) who otherwise possess pent up rage, and no outlet. He's a big, Green, lovable guy in purple pants. If you don't want your kids to see that, then just steer them clear of him. Simple as that!

This response was way too long, I know... on Jun 6, 2008


not to start an argument but which incarnation of the Hulk exactly do you mean? Mr.Fixit was a womanizing violent thug and the professor Hulk was an arrogant self righteous "have it my way or i will force you to have it my way" bully, the latest incarnation is a cold hearted nihilist or is revenge driven. i agree that you raise your kids are you want to, but there is also glorifying what has been stated many times being a mental illness as a hero. i am not bashing the Hulk, in fact i have over 20 years of reading Peter David's The Incredible Hulk and he is by far my favorite comic character, but at the same time i know that he as a character and the film should be targeted more to teen than little kids. also i have to disagree with him being big and lovable, he is big and violent and prone to tantrums, yes i personally wouldn't expose my kids to the Hulk until they have matured enough to comprehend that he is misunderstood and not to be glorified but pitied.

The Delightful Deviant on Jun 6, 2008


YOW. Harsh. I'm talking about Marvel Adventures, Marvel's Kid-friendly line of comic books. And ANY of the cartoons. And ANY of the toys. These are things we usually say are for kids, right? Not to mention the Bixby shows, which probably drew generations of kids to sit through fairly sophisticated drama & no shortage of social commentary, in anticipation of ole' greenskin. My personal stance is 10 yrs. old, they can start handling violence - b/c they're going to school w/ tons of kids that are bathing in the stuff already, best to explain to them that it has it's place. Hulk as psychosis? Then every person, in every city, on every highway, waiting in every line at the bank, or working out in every gym, or competing in every sport - that has ever displayed aggression, rage, fury, or 'their inner beast' would fall in that category. Hate to break it to ya, bub. But you're outnumbered! 😉 I say get the kids hulk hands, Marvel adventures comics, & cartoons if they're interested. If you don't want to deal w/ telling them to 'wait till they're old enough to see the blockbuster movie', then avoid the issue altogether. Oh- and when your kids start taking psychology classes, Peter David's whole run - while not a cohesive breakdown of Psych 101 - certainly provides a compelling companion. Whatever you choose, as always in parenting, be steadfast in your resolve! 😉

Djozer on Jun 6, 2008


Oh, & what I meant by violence having it's place I meant on screen, and possibly in the form of aggression, in defensive situations.

Djozer on Jun 6, 2008


The MPAA is a joke, an absolute joke. Consider this: "Lust, Caution" was in the news last year for having a NC-17 rating, which means NO CHILDREN WHATSOEVER can see it in theatres (yes, I'm sure it's a law). It was a very good film (or so I hear), but it recieved it for scenes of intense sex. But "Hostel Part 2", which was practically booed by critics everywhere, had sex, drugs, both legal and illegal, and nasty scenes of torture. It only recieved a R rating! WTF! Don't believe the MPAA. If one wants to see how violent a film is, he should see it before he takes his kids (or at least visit an independent movie review site that rates films). It all relies on personal responsibility. If you don't want your kids seeing HULK, that's fine by me.

Ajax on Jun 6, 2008


The world would be a happier and more pieceful place to live without MPAA, FTC and all bongo banging hags and old farts commenting on the violence in todays movies.

Shige on Jun 7, 2008


I am not so much concerned about advertising directed at children, as I am the liberal schools brainwashing white kids into believing ba-lacks are equal to them. Studies have proved that most ba-lacks function at the level of retardation.

tabing911 on Jun 7, 2008


#22: Holy fuck are you kidding? How does that have anything to do with advertising??

Nettle on Jun 7, 2008


My only problem with advertising in movies for kids is product placement. Fantastic Four 2 had a beer ad. WTF? It had two characters drinking two X's, with the label facing the camera, and a patch plastered on their jumpsuits. Why don't they have the fantastic four smoking as well? They would of got a lot of heat for that, but its okay to have the 'team' fantastic four sponsored by a beer company?

Kyle A. K. on Jun 7, 2008

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