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Disney’s Baby Einstein, the wildly popular brand of DVDs, CDs, and toys designed for infants, has been making headlines with its new refund program for DVDs purchased between June 5, 2004 and September 4, 2009. Protesters of Baby Einstein see this as Disney’s admission that the DVDs do not, in fact, make your baby smarter. This isn’t the first time Baby Einstein has been under attack.
In 2006, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) petitioned the FTC to crack down on Baby Einstein for false and deceptive advertising because the DVDs were not educational, but in fact detrimental to infant development. Shortly after, Disney stopped promoting the DVDs as “educational.” Last year, lawyers threatened a class action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices if Disney did not offer full refunds of the DVDs.
The allegations against Baby Einstein may be well-founded. The Academy of Pediatricians recommends no television for children under two years old. A recent Harvard study of the effect of Baby Einstein DVDs links their use to lower test scores and lower vocabularies. Baby Einstein interprets the findings of the study, published in a recent issue of Pediatrics, differently. On its official website, Baby Einstein argues that infant viewing of television has “a neutral to no effect” on child development.
Now, CCFC wants Disney to change the name from “Baby Einstein.” According to Allen Kanner, a psychologist on the steering committee of CCFC, says that the name still carries “a strong implication that it makes your child or baby smarter.”
With the investment in its brand name, estimated at $40 million, and its corner in the market, it’s no wonder that Disney does not want to change the name of its product. Since the product is so well known, and Disney stopped advertising its product as educational, any legal action by CCFC to get Disney to change the name of its product will likely fail.
The argument is incredibly similar to an attack on the trademark of Coca-Cola beverages. In the 1920 case Coca-Cola Co. v. Koke Co., a competitor of Coca-Cola argued that the product name was deceptive because the beverage no longer contained cocaine. The Supreme Court of the United States rejected any fraud in the name of the product, reasoning that the name had come to signify the product itself rather than describe the now-absent qualities of the product. The same reasoning presents a sound argument for the continued use of the name “Baby Einstein,” which is at least recognized as infant-geared DVDs.
Whether Baby Einstein actually is detrimental to infant development, it will be interesting to see how CCFC’s campaign against Baby Einstein plays out. With all the negative publicity Baby Einstein has received recently, CCFC has a hard case to prove that consumers still associate the products with child education. Sitting your infant in front of the television for an hour doesn’t intuitively seem like a way to turn your child into the next Nobel Laureate.
– Theresa Weisenberger
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