Dora the Explorer Hawks Junk Food to Kids Like a Drug Pusher in New Ad

Long-term aim is to get Nickelodeon to reject unhealthy advertising

Food advocates are back with a new ad slamming Nickelodeon for accepting ads for junk food. The ad from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and five other children’s advocacy groups, continues with the "Wanted" theme. Last time, it was SpongeBob; this time it's Dora the Explorer.

In a scene that brings to mind drug pushers on the street, Dora is standing on a street corner hawking sugary cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and other "nutritionally dangerous foods" like Sour Patch Kids popsicles to a couple of wide-eyed children.

The ad is running in Adweek sister publication The Hollywood Reporter during Advertising Week when the talk of brands is front and center. Adweek declined to run the ad. 

"Adweek's policy here is quite clear: We do not accept ads that we feel weaponize our brand. It is our judgment that this campaign by the CSPI does precisely that," said Adweek publisher Suzan Gursoy.

CSPI and the other groups, including Center for Digital Democracy, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Prevention Institute, Children Now and Health Happens, have been hammering away at Nickelodeon for years to adopt a Disney-like program to restrict what ads the network will air on its children's programming. While they don't expect one ad to make the difference, they aren't giving up.

"Change takes time, especially when trying to change a big company's practices. Most of the policies I've worked on have taken years," said Margo Wootan, CSPI's director.

Nickelodeon isn't tone-deaf to the childhood obesity program or the pressure coming from the White House and advocacy groups. The company recently launched a program with Birds Eye Vegetables to encourage healthier eating among children. Called Play With Your Food, the program features Nickelodeon characters in ads, games and other elements. First lady Michelle Obama praised the program during last week's Convening on Food Marketing to Children. 

Still, Wootan said Nickelodeon isn't doing enough. "They do some public service advertising and PR, but that doesn't make up for the huge amount of unhealthy food advertising they do," Wootan said. According to CSPI's count, only one PSA airs for every 30 junk-food ads.

Nickelodeon was not immediately available for comment.