The eagle-eyed regulators at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have a sneaking suspicion that a restaurant offering animatronic, human-sized mice and a ball pit may be trying to attract kids. Specifically, the FTC is concerned that the company's marketing (exemplified by its slogan, "Chuck E. Cheese: Where a Kid Can Be a Kid!") may inappropriately appeal to pint-sized consumers.
A spokesman for the commission reassuringly told Advertising Age, "We are not proposing any regulation." But Chuck E. Cheese is one of 44 firms that received an "order to file special report" three years ago. The resulting study recommended that companies "adopt and adhere to meaningful, nutrition-based standards for marketing their products to children" and that character licensing and movie tie-in should be limited to healthy foods.
The chain's parent company, CEC Entertainment, has now been subpoenaed so the commission can check on the progress of self-regulation, with the implied threat that if the authorities don't approve of what the industry has done on its own, federal action may follow. During a speech late last year, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz called out several firms covered by the initial probe for their failure to "make a commitment" to responsible marketing practices. Other companies caught in the net include Yum Brands, Wendy's, Sunkist, Red Bull, and Chiquita.