CARU Snookered by MPAA on Advertising Violent or Sexy Movies to Kids

Last Updated Jun 17, 2009 11:46 AM EDT

The relationship between The Children's Advertising Review Unit and the Motion Picture Association of America is non-functional, raising questions about what, exactly, each self-policing body is hoping to achieve with the other.

CARU has sent out a stream of press releases indicating it believes that sexy, violent movies are being wrongly advertised to kids -- and the MPAA, per its agreement with CARU, has done nothing about it. BNET first noted the issue back in December. (Pictured: Anne Hathaway in Get Smart, which was advertised on kids' TV and which CARU cited MPAA rated for "rude humor, action, violence and language.")

Often, CARU discovers that the movie studio intentionally placed the ad on kids' TV. That happened recently with an ad for Star Trek. The film is rated PG-13 for "sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content," but was advertised during children's programming hours. CARU's rules state that advertisers "should take care to assure that only age appropriate videos, films and interactive software are advertised to children."

But the studio, Paramount, told CARU that it had placed the ad deliberately. So CARU referred the ad to MPAA for sanctions. CARU and MPAA have an agreement -- as the movie business has its own set of voluntary standards and disciplines, CARU will defer to MPAA on advertising matters.

MPAA tells BNET that it has never found a movie studio in violation of its advertising rules, even though CARU has referred dozens of movies to MPAA over the years for alleged violations just like Paramount's. Greg Goeckner, MPAA's evp/general counsel:

We haven't had anybody deliberately violate the rules.
UPDATE: The MPAA and CARU both disagree with BNET's interpretation of what is going on here -- check out their full statements in the comments section below. It turns out that MPAA's idea of what's appropriate for kids is different from CARU's. MPAA notes that PG-13 is a cautionary rating, not a restrictive one. It suggests 13-year-olds shouldn't see the movie, but 12-year-olds can still buy their own tickets if they want to. So PG-13 movies can be advertised to under-13s.

As MPAA applies ratings to movie ads as well as the movies themselves, all movie ads are virtually guaranteed to be within MPAA's rules unless a studio truly screws up. MPAA can refuse to rate a movie -- thus killing it at the box office -- if studios don't cooperate.

So why does CARU bother admonishing movie studios for advertising on kids' TV? Director Wayne J. Keeley, admitted that it defers to MPAA on advertising issues, but added:

CARU has established a public record of PG-13 advertising to kids, offering parents another resource as they consider which films are appropriate for their families.
MPAA's Goeckner said:
It's a relationship I think has worked well.

The problem seems to be that MPAA is receiving an advantage from a loophole in CARU's own rules. CARU acts as the ad industry's voluntary police force, but agrees to defer to any industry that has its own self-regulatory procedure for advertising. MPAA has one, and it has a whole different set of standards than CARU's. Thus MPAA members are essentially immune from CARU, under CARU's own rules.

Worst-case scenario: Less reputable industries notice this hole and take advantage of it, leaving CARU regulating almost nobody.