Okay, perhaps spanked doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that Baby Einstein has offered to give back its allowance to the tune of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. The Disney-owned maker of the wildly popular (and controversial) infant media juggernaut pledged to refund any of its products until March 10, 2010.

How did something as seemingly innocuous as a bunch of baby videos with triangles bouncing to Bach end up becoming so contentious?

The videos, first marketed as educational toys for babies and toddlers, have been at the center of a battle over babies’ brains for years. According to a 2003 study cited in the New York Times, one in three U.S. babies from six months to 2 years old had at least one Baby Einstein video. Despite the company’s success, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against screen time for children under the age of 2.

In 2006 angry parents led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Baby Einstein’s marketing of its products as educational was deceptive. In response to the complaint, the company altered its marketing materials and removed parent testimonials from its website; the commission declined to bring any action against Baby Einstein. Citing studies that suggest screen time with similar products can inhibit language development, the CCFC continued pressing Disney to offer parents more than truth in advertising.

In a testily worded statement, Baby Einstein general manager Susan McLain contends that the current brouhaha is much ado about nothing: Its products have always had a customer-satisfaction guarantee. But unlike Baby Einstein’s normal offer (valid for 60 days from the date of purchase with a sales receipt), this “enhanced consumer-satisfaction guarantee” is valid for five years from the purchase date and requires no sales receipt.

Bottom line? If you bought the videos and no longer want them, pack them up and get the refund!

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