FTC Urges MPAA, Toy Makers to Review Movie Marketing to Kids

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The Federal Trade Commission is urging the Motion Picture Association of America to reconsider guidelines that allow some PG-13 movies to be marketed to young children, following a complaint by an advocacy group that the blockbuster film "Transformers" was inappropriately advertised to children as young as 2.

It also is urging toy manufacturers, fast-food chains and retailers to review how they sell movie-based toys to young children.

In a complaint last summer, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said the "Transformers" movie was advertised during the shows "Fairly Odd Parents" and "Jimmy Neutron," both rated by the television industry as TV-Y, or for all children, including those as young as 2. The movie, based on Hasbro Inc.'s line of "robots in disguise" toys, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor and language.

In a letter sent this week to the Boston-based advocacy group, FTC Associate Director Mary K. Engle said the MPAA doesn't have specific guidelines on where PG-13 movies can and can't be advertised, instead it considers each movie on a case-by-case basis.

"A more explicit policy, incorporating objective criteria, would provide better guidance to industry members and ensure that PG-13 movies are not marketed in a manner inconsistent with the rating," she wrote.

While the FTC suggests industry groups review their policies, it did not force them to take any action, a decision the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood called "disheartening."

The MPAA oversees movie ratings and is the industry's primary advocacy group. A PG-13 rating is a caution to parents that a film might not be suitable for a child under age 13 because of violence, nudity or other elements.

The letter suggests the MPAA could follow the lead of the video game industry, which takes into account the age of the TV audience when advertising games for more mature children.

Seth Oster, MPAA's executive vice president, said the association's existing rules were stricter than those in the video game industry because each piece of advertising was evaluated separately. If there is cause for concern, the MPAA will restrict where or when the ad can be shown, something that's done frequently, he said.

The MPAA has voluntarily barred advertising R-rated movies to children, but treats PG-13 movies differently because the rating is a suggestion, unlike an R-rating that prohibits viewers under 17.

Oster pointed out that the FTC advocates self-regulation for the movie industry, and said the MPAA would take the letter as constructive feedback from the commission.

"We take this issue very seriously," he said.

Pawtucket-based Hasbro did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday.