Glossy Garbage

Offensive magazine covers on supermarket shelves

Taking Action at the Local Supermarket


It is a common occurrence. While parents pay for their groceries at checkout counters, their kids scan the displays for candy and little toys. How often do their eyes light on sexually explicit magazine covers sometimes featuring scantily clad women and often containing salacious headlines? Too often.

That’s why American Family Association has launched a national campaign to make grocery and retail store checkouts more child friendly.

Recently, Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery store chain, began placing blinders over Cosmopolitan leaving only the title exposed. Company spokesman Gary Rhoades said Cosmopolitan covers are “not appropriate for the checkout areas where young children might see them.”

The publications most often mentioned by offended shoppers are Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Redbook. With a combined monthly circulation of nearly eight million,these magazines heavily depend upon supermarket and retail store checkout aisles for maximum exposure and sales.

On the February, 2000, cover of Cosmopolitan, grocery shoppers were urged to try the “Angel and Eight Other Sizzling Positions. So Hot, You’ll Burn A Hole Through The Bed.” April’s cover of Glamour teased children with, “What Men Think About Your Orgasm Face.” Shoppers, on the other hand, are urging the stores to clean up their act.

Stories whose sex-laden titles appear on the front cover are a teasing prelude to the pornographic nature of the stories inside. Cosmopolitan graphically details sexual foreplay in order to “make him plead for mercy – and beg for more.”

Cosmopolitan also allows young children unrestricted access to its website, where they can perform a “virtual boy toy ” striptease of men.

While many stores have a section solely devoted to the sale of magazines, books and greeting cards, shoppers can avoid these areas with relative ease. However, the checkout aisle presents a problem that even the “if you don’t like it, don’t look at it ” crowd cannot effectively debate.

Product placement is extremely important to magazine marketers. Because Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Redbook have the highest circulation of ladies’ magazines (although only 3%of the nation buys any one of them), they get the premiere slot at the checkout lane – eye level and within easy reach.

Most parents have come to accept that waiting in the checkout lane is part of the shopping process. However, parents should not expect their children to receive an unsolicited sex education class at the same time. Once inside the checkout aisle, there are usually no alternatives but to go forward.

The supermarket industry is one of the most competitive in the nation. Every small town or city has a number of supermarkets battling for the same customer dollars. Each week, national chains spend tens of millions of dollars advertising in local newspapers through color inserts and full-page ads. Even newspapers admit that, if not for competition, they would feel a significant impact in reduced ad revenues. This certainly gives the grocery shopper a legitimate advantage when approaching the local store manager.

By combining efforts, communities can apply financial pressure in convincing stubborn supermarkets to seriously address customer concerns regarding the display of inappropriate magazines in checkout aisles.

Summarily, supermarkets know that customer loyalty is what keeps them in business. They need to be reminded that the profit lost from a regular customer over the period of a month far exceeds the profit made on the few monthly magazines that prompted the customer to shop elsewhere.

Supermarkets would have to sell an additional 156 magazines per month to replace the profits made from a family of four who choose to buy groceries elsewhere.

Objection: “We don’t want to be censors ” or “It’s a First Amendment issue.”
Answer: The choice to carry magazines is not an issue of censorship. Using this fallacy, the manager would have to agree that by not carrying Playboy or Penthouse, he is a censor. It is a decision based on sales and profit margin. For private industry, the issue is responsibility.

The First Amendment guarantees the store freedom to choose what they will sell. Just as they choose to carry Star Kist Tuna rather than Bumble Bee brand, they can also choose which magazines to sell. Besides, you ’re not asking the store to remove the magazines, you simply want them displayed responsibly.

Objection: “We have no control. An outside company takes care of our magazine rack.”
Answer: Supermarkets can and do control what materials are sold in their store. Just as a store would not place Igloo Today in a Florida store, it should not place adult material in an area frequented by children.

Objection: “It’s a corporate policy. My hands are tied.”
Answer: See Taking Out the Trash below.

Objection: “What you see on those magazines is no worse than what’s on television.”
Answer: Parents can control what their children see on television. In the checkout aisle, there are no buttons to turn off, no parental controls. The only option available is to shop elsewhere.

Objection: “We have aisles that have no magazines. You can use those.”
Answer: Those aisles are not marked or may have longer lines. One of the selling points for supermarkets is convenience. Basically,the manager is asking you to go out of your way to shop in his store. He should be reminded that this is an issue of what is appropriate for all children – exposing children to sexually explicit covers has no place in the family marketplace.

Objection: “I don’t know where to get blinders and my supplier doesn’t furnish them.”
Answer: Many magazine distributors are familiar with the blinder issue and make them available at the store’s request. However, for about $20, citizens can offer to supply them at their own expense. Blinders can be custom made with materials from the local home center. Sheets of one-eighth inch plexiglass and a can of black spray paint will do the job nicely.


The following action steps can convince supermarkets to protect their customers from explicit and sexual content on checkout aisle magazine covers.

  1. Ask to speak to the store manager. With magazine in hand, share your concern for families and children who are faced with such material. Ask to know the company’s policy regarding offensive products.
  2. Request the manager remove the specific issue from the checkout aisle or place a blinder over it, leaving only the title exposed.
  3. Ask for the company’s corporate address. Write a letter to the president, sending a copy to the local store manager.
  4. Start a phone or email tree, asking friends to contact the local store manager.
  5. Distribute petitions asking the store to cover magazines with overt sexual content. Some national chains provide pre-addressed and postage paid comment cards. Distribute these to those who agree with your position.
  6. Form a coalition of like-minded citizens. Address local groups such as bible clubs, ladies’ groups and Sunday School classes for support. You’ll be surprised how many will join your efforts.
  7. Request a formal meeting with the manager. Ask local ministers or community leaders to attend. Politely let the store know that if they continue to display the magazines uncovered, you will make the issue public and will encourage other families to stop shopping at his store.
  8. Write a letter to the editor of the local paper. This is a good tool for gaining support.
  9. Plan a peaceful Rally for Decency in front of the store.