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Marketing violence to youngsters :Kids’ meals with a side of gunplay and a little torture thrown in

In 1985, Rambo: First Blood Part II was released. Body count: 69; Kill count per minute: 0.72; Torture scenes: 5.


As with any good Hollywood film, the marketing campaign for this sequel to one of America’s most well-known movies fired up months before the movie’s release.

But products designed to promote the movie were not geared toward adolescents older than 16, as the R rating might lead you to believe. Much of the merchandise was solicited to kids from pre-school age to middle school, toys such as the Rambo Electric Train and Battle Set; the Rambo Combat Rifle Target Game Set; grenades described as “soft and safe” (recommended for 5+); and Rambo Black Flack Bubble Gum, manufactured to look like shrapnel.

Using the Rambo toy campaign as a primary target, Siskel and Ebert addressed the issue of marketing violence to kids on their T.V. series “At the Movies” the same year Rambo II was released.


“It’s strange to look at this and realize,” Ebert said, “that the vocabulary for the responsible toy industry like ‘recommended for kids age five and up,’ and ‘these grenades are soft and safe,’ are being applied to instruments like these…and it’s interesting to see the most successful images of killing and maiming and warfare are now being recycled directly into a kind of Mr. T that kids can identify with.”

How many parents who purchased those products actually took their six-year-old to see Rambo mow down dozens of bad guys? We would guess very few.

Now, more than 20 years later, Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon is  in theatres, and one member of our staff is struggling with the same  issue. Like many young boys, her four-year-old son is obsessed with Transformers. He owns droves of the morphing action figures and has requested a Transformers themed birthday party in August.

He was originally introduced to the epic battle between Decepticons and Autobots via toy commercials but also through Burger King kids meals, which for boys recently included one of eight Transformers figurines.

The problem with the seemingly harmless plaything nestled alongside the kiddy fries and four-piece nuggets is that the film it promotes is rated PG-13, and the mother will not allow her four-year-old to go to the movie.

Burger King is notorious for tying into films with PG-13 ratings, and they have rightly come under criticism in the past from parents and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood for promoting mature films to children between four and nine years old.

Why aren’t these movie and food partnerships handled more responsibly? Why not pick a theme where the kids who eat the meal can actually see the film––something age-appropriate like Cars 2 or Winnie the Pooh?

Film companies, the food industry and the toy industry show how irresponsible and thoughtless they are by pimping films and toys  ripe with images of war, violence and gore to our young children.

According to a report in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics published in 2006, children under eight are not mentally able to differentiate advertising from reality. Marketing departments for these industries disgracefully take advantage of our children’s cognitive immaturity to turn a profit.

To satiate her son, our staff member is pulling up old episodes of the original, animated Transformers on You Tube. These are still slightly violent but lack the sexual innuendo and sustained, intense fighting and brutality of the full length films.

Parents must make responsible decisions as they raise their children, but restaurants, their partners in the film industry and toy makers need to step to the moral plate and make better judgments when marketing to our children.

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