August 30th, 2005

Raffi Asks Rogers Not to Market Mobile Phones to Children

By Gary Ruskin
Commercial Alert

Singer-songwriter (and Commercial Alert advisory board member) Raffi Cavoukian sent a letter today to Ted Rogers, chairman of Rogers Wireless Inc., the largest Canadian wireless communications company, urging him not to market mobile phones to children.  Here’s the letter.

Dear Ted,

In your remarkable professional life, youve been a business leader, and an innovator. As the president of my own music company, I too have had unprecedented success in my genre. IҒm writing to you as one successful entrepreneur to another.

In my career as a childrens troubadour, IҒve made some tough decisions: Ive stared down the lures of Disney, and I recently said no to the producers of Shrek. The decision IҒm proudest of is the one not to advertise directly to children, on any medium, period. And, in 30 years, Ive not done one commercial endorsement.

To my dismayҗand the dismay of many individuals and organizationsbusinesses are increasingly pitching ads to children to get them to nag their parents into buying various products. The overt commercialization of childhood is of great concern, witness the number of books recently published on the subject, such as Childhood Lost, Born to Buy, and Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood. These books explain why it is unethical to advertise directly to kids, mainly because they are too young to assess the product claims aimed at them. Simply put, it exploits their naivetש and their innocence, and can adversely affect family relations. (In Sweden such marketing is considered unacceptable and is banned for children under 12. The CBCs kidҒs shows are commercial free.)

Recently, I signed onto a letter addressed to Congress the advocacy group Commercial Alert (www.commercialalert.org) on behalf of a number of signatories who are concerned that cell phones for kids can open the door to all manner of predatory commercial practices.

Your companys recent decision to market cellphones to those as young as eight is regrettable. Not only is there the matter of ethics, first and foremost, thereҒs also the risk to children posed by these costly devices, which could become tools by which corporations can reachӔ kids. Todays assurances that these phones are ґprotected canҒt be guaranteed for long, as more and more companies join the junior cell phone gold rush and offer new featuresђ to secure market share.

Theres enough fear mongering at present without scaring families into purchases they donҒt need. The fear used in advertising costly phones to kids (and their parents) in the guise that the kids might be safer is deplorable. And how should families feel that cant afford cellphones? No doubt, cellphones for preteens has been thoroughly focus-grouped. But the idea lacks integrity, and it lacks wisdom.

Ted, nowҒs the time to be a true hero and say NO to advertising to kids, for any reason. Call a meeting of your shareholders and scrap the cellphones for kids idea. Say its wrong. Show us that Rogers wonҒt join the corporate gang that targets kids, that Rogers will be a leader and will respect the rights of children and families not to be exploited.

Sincerely,

Raffi Cavoukian, C.M., O.B.C., D.Mus., D.Litt.,
The Troubadour Centre, Mayne Island, BC.

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