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Today Warns About Ads Geared To Kids...Then Breaks for Ad Geared To Kids

NBC's Matt Lauer, on Wednesday's Today show, previewed a segment about an FTC campaign to urge teachers to warn their tween-aged students about the evils of marketing, (something apparently parents are ill-equipped to do themselves) as he alerted viewers: "Plus the barrage of ads our kids see every day and what's being done to protect them from the urge to buy, buy, buy!" Amusingly that teaser, over a video clip of an Apple Jacks ad featuring animated characters, came right before the Today show broke for an actual cereal commercial featuring - you guessed it - animated characters.

Later on in the segment Lauer confessed he worries because his own kids are in the targeted age range of the advertisers and fretted to his guest, the FTC's David Kladeck, about their lack of regulation: "Real quickly, if possible, in some ways are you throwing in the towel here saying, 'We can no longer regulate the ads, we simply have to try and deal with them because we know they're going to be out there no matter what?'" To which Kladeck responded that a little something called the First Amendment got in the way of any sort of ad ban.

The following teasers and segment were aired on the April 28 Today show:

MATT LAUER OVER VIDEO CLIP OF AD FOR APPLE JACKS FEATURING ANIMATED CHARACTERS: Plus the barrage of ads our kids see every day and what's being done to protect them from the urge to buy, buy, buy! After your local news.

(Actual ad comes on the air for Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal featuring animated characters)

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LAUER: Also ahead if you're a parent, you know how much an influence or how much influence a well-placed ad can have on your children. The right commercial can persuade them to want to buy just about anything. Just ahead we're gonna look at a new campaign aimed at making our kids more educated about the things they see on television and also on the Internet. And that's big thing in my household.

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MEREDITH VIEIRA: But up next the purchasing power of kids and a new campaign aimed at protecting them from advertising gimmicks. It's right after this.

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LAUER: Tweens, who are kids between the ages of 8 and 12, now account for as much as $200 billion in purchasing power and marketers know it. That's why the Federal Trade Commission has partnered with Scholastic to help children understand the power of advertising and become more educated consumers. David Vladeck is the director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. David nice to see you.

DAVID VLADECK, FTC: Very nice to see you.

LAUER: I've got one 8-year-old, one who's going to be in this age group soon. And boy, the advertisements they see on TV captivate them and they want what they see. What's the message you are trying to send to kids and parents?

VLADECK: Well, for both we want to teach kids how this think critically about advertising and to ask three questions - who's responsible for the ad, what is the ad saying and what is the ad trying to tell me to do. And we think once they get answers to those questions then they can move on to answer the next question which is, "Is this in my best interest, is this a product I need to have, is this the right product for me?"

LAUER: What you're really doing is doing the opposite of what the advertisers are doing because the advertisers are trying to captivate these kids with something that doesn't even look like an advertisement. They think they're, they're watching just entertainment, next thing you know there is a product almost being forced down their throats.

VLADECK: Right. Which is why the first, the first part of this game, and the first lesson plan is to teach kids to spot ads. And ads are oftentimes product placements in movies or in television shows, or, or on the Internet, integrated into video games. So it's not clear every, at every time what's an ad and what isn't.

LAUER: And I like the way you're going about it. Admongo, this, this thing you've distributed to about 100,000, I think it's 4th , 5th and 6th grade teachers across the country-

VLADECK: Right.

LAUER: -is really this way for these kids to learn more about this. I want to show a couple of commercials, ads.

VLADECK: Sure.

LAUER: Okay? And just jump in and tell me what you think parents and kids need to know. First one is for Apple Jacks. Runs during an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. And as we see this, tell me what jumps out at you.

(Begin ad clip)

VLADECK: So this is an ad that's typical of many ads directed at kids. It uses visuals and animated characters to convey a sense of happiness. Now the ad doesn't tell you what's in the product. It doesn't tell you it's nutritious. It doesn't tell you it's good for you. But it does create an environment of happiness and so what the ad is trying to convey. And what we're hoping students and parents will learn when they deconstruct this ad to look at these techniques is, the message that the advertiser wants you to take away is this product will make you happy.

LAUER: Right.

VLADECK: And then we want students to take a step back-

LAUER: And, and you mention there is no equivalent advertisement for broccoli.

VLADECK: Right.

LAUER: And so they're only getting one side of the story.

VLADECK: They're, they're getting the advertiser's side of the story.

LAUER: Roll this next piece of video downstairs. This ad is for Axe Body Spray. You're not gonna see it during Spongebob Square Pants but you will see it on MTV. The message for young boys here is, use this stuff, girls are gonna dig you.

VLADECK: Well it's, it's even broader than that. This is an appeal to popularity which is a key tool in advertising. "Use our product and people will like you, you'll be popular." And so we, we and there are many techniques - humor, the sex appeal that, that drives home those messages and we want kids to understand that those are the techniques that advertisers use to convey that image.

LAUER: Real quickly, if possible, in some ways are you throwing in the towel here saying, "We can no longer regulate the ads, we simply have to try and deal with them because we know they're going to be out there no matter what?"

VLADECK: We don't want to take a position whether these ads are good or bad. The First Amendment permits these advertisements. Our, our goal here is to give kids the tools they need to navigate through this very intensely commercial environment they live in.

LAUER: Alright and good luck with it. I applaud it. Thanks very much, David Vladeck. It's good top have you here.

VLADECK: Thanks so much.

LAUER: To learn more about Admongo you can head to our Web site at TodayShow.com.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here