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Parents Offered Refunds on Baby Einstein Videos

Sarah Schmidt
Canwest News Service
October 23, 2009

Parents who feel duped by claims that Baby Einstein videos were brain boosters for their infants and toddlers can now get a refund for old merchandise from The Walt Disney Company.

The company has agreed to cough up the cash through an extended DVD return policy after a lengthy campaign by a coalition of educators and parents, who complained Disney's marketing materials implied their videos for babies under two years of age were beneficial for cognitive development.

The move to compensate some customers comes after Baby Einstein - a Walt Disney Company - stopped using some claims following a complaint lodged with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

The group alleged deceptive marketing of the videos.

"Disney took the word 'educational' off of its website and its marketing, but we felt that parents deserved more," child psychologist Susan Linn, co-founder of the organization, said Friday.

"Parents who bought the videos mistakenly believing they were educational can now get a refund. We believe this is an acknowledgment that baby videos are not educational," added Linn, also an associate director of Judge Baker Children's Center, affiliated with Harvard University.

To participate in the Disney refund, U.S. and Canadian customers must have purchased Baby Einstein DVDs between June 5, 2004 and September 4, 2009. Customers must apply for their money back by March 4, 2010 to eligible under this short-term offer.

Ron Murray would have tried to get his money back if he hadn't already tossed out the one Baby Einstein DVD he purchased for his daughter.

The Vancouver father had already received one as a gift when his child was about six-months old and was sucked in by the marketing materials.

"I'm embarrassed in hindsight because I bought the pitch," said Murray, whose daughter is now four.

"We were new parents, I hadn't been around kids at all. I looked at the video, and thought, 'Well, this will be helpful for her to try and identify shapes and colours' - not with a view getting ahead in the world, but just with a view to providing some stimulation."

But when Murray's active daughter "just stayed planted for the entire length of the video," he became troubled by her response and ditched the DVD. He also found academic studies that questioned their value for young children.

The offer of $15.99 U.S. for North American customers coincided with a possible class action in the United States hanging over Disney on behalf of customers who purchased videos since June 4, 2004.

"We found a team of public-health lawyers, we found them a plaintiff, we shared our information with them and now there's a refund," said Linn.

A spokesperson for Baby Einstein said this is coincidental and there is no relationship between the refund campaign and the extended offer for money back on old merchandise.

In a statement, the company said it "has long held a customer satisfaction program for its consumers that dates back to the origins of the company." And this reinforcement and expansion of its "long-standing total consumer satisfaction policy" is based on the belief that parents know best for their children.

Linn's organization took issue with certain claims in promotional materials, such as a father-figure saying: "I could almost see my baby's mind expanding," in a television commercial starring a baby and toddler watching a Baby Einstein video.

Parent testimonials promoted by the company also included: "Baby Einstein videos appeal to curious little ones while helping their development"; "Baby Einstein helps develop recognition skills"; "Baby Einstein videos helped increase JJ's attention span"; and "Baby Shakespeare encourages Jennifer's son to start talking."

Some claims no longer used by Disney include a pitch for Baby Wordsworth as a "rich and interactive learning experience that . . . fosters the development of your toddler's speech and language skills." The claim that Numbers Nursery will "help develop your baby's understanding of what numbers mean" has also been dropped, says Linn's group.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two years of age.

And a study published earlier this year concluded this was a smart policy after reviewing the findings of 78 published studies probing the effects of television on young children.

The Canadian Paediatric Society's policy does not distinguish between babies and older children, recommending television watching should be limited to less than one to two hours per day.

The society also says by the end of the first year of a child's life, "there should be ground rules for television viewing and healthy viewing habits should be established in the second year of life."





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