National Institute on Media and the Family

National Institute on Media and the Family is an independent, nonpartisan, non-sectarian, non-profit organization that provides reliable information so families can make prudent media choices. .

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Internet Safety

The recent article in the New York Times about a public service announcement campaign for young Internet users (see last post) is encouraging. The Justice Department, Advertising Council, children’s advocacy groups, and leading researchers are bringing attention to the dangers of the online sexual predators. Making kids aware of the dangers on the Internet is essential to protecting to them.

But, the overall situation is less rosy when you consider that some irresponsible buzz marketers are still maintaining chat rooms that could be happy hunting grounds for online predators. According to the article, 20 percent of kids receive a sexual solicitation online in the course of a year. And that figure comes from studying kids in 1998 and 1999. The recent explosion of buzz marketing sites probably increases the odds.

Making kids aware of the Internet’s hidden dangers is a good first step. All parents should sit down with their kids and discuss what to do when a sexual predator approaches. We must stress that they should never agree to meet these people in person.

That said, the people who create kid-friendly sites in cyberspace bear some of the responsibility, too. Kids should have the savvy to avoid predators’ clutches. But I can see no reason to make it easier for the fiends to test our kids’ skills.

Posted by NIMF Staff @ 1:51 PM
Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The New York Times recently published an article about efforts to protect teenage girls from Internet predators. You will find the article at:

Posted by NIMF Staff @ 3:23 PM
Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Press Release from Massachusetts State Representative Mike Festa:

Festa Sponsors Act to Protect Youth from Online Exploitation by Buzz Marketers

Bill Requires Parental Consent for Teenagers Who Participate in Internet Word-of-Mouth Marketing

State Representative Mike Festa, Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, announced today his sponsorship of legislation aimed at protecting children from exploitation by youth marketers on the Internet.

The legislation will ensure that youth under the age of 16 who are recruited to participate in marketing campaigns, such as word-of-mouth promotions, can do so only with parental consent. Co-sponsoring the legislation are State Representatives Vincent A. Pedone (D-Worcester), Chair of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure and Shirley Owens-Hicks (D-Mattapan), Chair of the Committee on Children and Families.

“In an era when an unprecedented number of children are being recruited by marketers to participate in online advertising campaigns, we need to protect our youth from unwanted solicitations and ensure that marketing messages are age-appropriate,” noted Rep. Festa. “Doing so should require parental approval of all marketing practices and materials whenever children are employed by marketers.”

Rep. Festa said he was drawn to the issue after reading news accounts, including a December 5th New York Times Magazine cover story, that described the ways in which buzz marketing companies support deceptive practices among “agents,” including minors, who are employed to participate in their promotional campaigns. An Act to Regulate Certain Employment Practices in Connection with Children’s Marketing Activities requires marketers to obtain parental consent for children aged 16 or younger who are recruited to participate in a Sales Force Network, which includes word-of-mouth marketing efforts. The legislation was filed on March 21, 2005.

For more information, please contact Melissa Callan (617) 722-2210

Posted by NIMF Staff @ 8:35 AM
Tuesday, March 08, 2005

WOMMA Ethics Code Misses the Mark with Minors

This following open letter is from a full-page ad running in national publications:

An Open Letter to Marketing Professionals:

Today, the National Institute on Media and the Family is asking marketing professionals and the brands they represent to take a stand and refuse to work for or with marketers who use minors as a distribution model in word-of-mouth campaigns.

Word-of-mouth is an age-old marketing strategy with limitless possibilities, but only when implemented responsibly and appropriately. Savvy adults who are used to and comfortable with expressing their opinions about products and services understand how viral and buzz marketing work. But the rules that apply to adult consumers don’t, and shouldn’t, apply to young people.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), one of several new groups representing some of these unique marketers, recently announced a draft “code of ethics” that has caused “turmoil,” according to one of the leading Internet marketing publications.

One reason for the turmoil is the National Institute on Media and the Family and others believe that the WOMMA code does not appropriately address the use of minors in viral marketing campaigns. In fact, WOMMA’s code provides safe harbor to marketers who create “Internet sweatshops” or multilevel marketing schemes using minors as their distribution model. These
marketers offer their “agents” little payment and often offer only free products.

BzzAgent, whose CEO serves as chairman of the WOMMA ethics committee, was recently critiqued in The New York Times for advising its “secret agent” consumer advocates—including youth 13-16 years of age— to use “discretion” with friends and family members about their marketing efforts. In response to public pressure, including a complaint from the National Institute on Media and the Family, BzzAgent publicly claimed to remove all mention of discretion from its materials. However, we have discovered that BzzAgent, in fact, continues to mail welcome packets to new volunteer recruits that prompt them to be “discreet.”

Despite WOMMA’s own declaration to be the “good guys,” words must be backed up with responsible actions. Parents need to know who is marketing to – and more importantly with – their kids on the Internet. We encourage parents to take a “zero tolerance” policy against this form of marketing and join the National Institute on Media and the Family in voicing concern about the use of minors in word-of-mouth campaigns.

We also support innovations in marketing techniques. But when it comes to word-of-mouth strategies, we hope marketers will take special care not to exploit minors when representing their clients and brands.

To add your voice to the effort to protect kids recruited for stealth marketing campaigns, visit our Web site at

David Walsh, PhD
Founder and President
National Institute on Media and the Family

Posted by NIMF Staff @ 7:58 AM
Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Word of Mouth Marketing and Ethics

In early February, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) released its “Word of Mouth Marketing Code of Ethics.” We at the National Institute on Media and the Family hope WOMMA's request for comment and revision has been made in good faith, because in its current form the ethics code falls far short of adequately protecting children from exploitation in word of mouth campaigns.

We have called on WOMMA to include parental notification as a strict requirement when targeting children aged 13 to 16 in word of mouth campaigns. At a minimum, parents should know their children are being recruited, trained, and used as word of mouth marketers for popular, trend-setting products and services.

We have made our case publicly, and we have been encouraged to see media interest in the issue.

Together we can stamp out buzzploitation.

Posted by NIMF Staff @ 9:15 AM
Wednesday, February 16, 2005


It’s not just a new word, it’s a new phenomenon. The word buzzploitation refers to the increasingly—and unfortunately—prevalent practice of exploiting of kids’ natural inclination to tell their friends what they think is cool. Recently, it’s come to light that some marketers are using some extremely questionable methods to push their products on eager kids.

Here’s how it works: they give free samples to kid, hoping the youngsters will promote the products to their friends. Sometimes the kids don’t realize they’re shilling for a company—they think they’re simply getting cool new stuff.

What’s really wrong with this picture? Well, some of these marketers are telling the kids to keep all of this secret from their parents. It shouldn’t take long before you begin to think of the long list of problems that can stem from this sort of thing.

Today, we at the National Institute on Media and the Family are launching this Buzzploitation Blog, to keep you up to date on the latest developments in word of mouth marketing, especially the unethical moves of the worst offenders. We’ll track the industry, maintaining a keen focus on the exploitation of children in word of mouth campaigns.

The National Institute on Media and the Family is dedicated to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the harm of media on children and families through research, education, and advocacy. We’re focusing on the word of mouth marketing industry to help promote and maintain children’s safety. We recently launched an investigation to determine if particular Internet marketers are exploiting young people and possibly exposing them to adult-oriented themes and concepts. We’ll keep you updated on our findings.

Word of mouth marketing has become a popular and effective method of promoting products. Parents should take notice. Their children are not only targeted, they are recruited, trained, and engaged, often without their parent’s knowledge. Using this blog, we’ll help parents protect their children by raising awareness of word of mouth marketers, their campaigns, and their tactics.

Not all online marketers are out to exploit our kids. As we keep a close eye on the industry, we will make an effort to recognize and commend responsible online marketers. But we will never hesitate to expose the marketers who take an irresponsible and dangerous approach to contacting our kids.

This blog is an exciting new project for us. We look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.

Posted by NIMF Staff @ 1:35 PM