Marketing is “fattening” to our kids

The rate of overweight and obesity among 9- to 11-year-old children in California rose from 33.5 percent in 1999 to 40.3 percent in 2005 and then appeared to plateau through 2009 at 37.1 to 37.5 percent.  But, has it? And even if so, is this good news?  No doubt that the parents are the main role model in children adapting unhealthy eating and exercising habits. But, the food marketing industry plays a role too.

Using data obtained through compulsory process orders to 44 major food and beverage marketers, the Federal Trade Commission found that the food industry spent $2.1 billion marketing food to youth in 2006.  A  recently released report compares 2006 data to 2009 data from the 44 original companies and four additional companies.  Although total spending on food marketing to youth dropped 19.5% in 2009,to $1.79 billion. Spending on youth-directed television advertising fell 19.5%, while spending on new media, such as online and viral marketing, increased 50%.

The overall picture of how marketers reach children, however, did not significantly change. Companies continue to use a wide variety of techniques to reach young people, and marketing campaigns are heavily integrated, combining traditional media, Internet, digital marketing, packaging, and often using cross-promotions with popular movies or TV characters across all of these.  (In fact, by 2010, 92% of toddlers had an online presence, which included photos on Facebook and social media profiles)

Cross-promotion was a hallmark of marketing food to young people, particularly children. In 2009, the companies reported more than 120 cross-promotions (up from 80 in 2006) tying food and beverage products to popular movies, TV programs, cartoon characters, toys, websites,video games, theme parks, and other entertainment venues. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,the Madagascar movies, and Night at the Museum were prominent in 2009 and were used to promote Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) meals, cereal, fruit snacks, yogurt, candy, carbonated beverages, and many other products. Promotions included TV and print ads for the foods featuring movie characters, toy premiums distributed with QSR children’s meals, movie characters appearing on packaging along with codes to enter contests online, co-branded websites with games and sweepstakes, and fruit snacks imprinted with movie images. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network also licensed their shows and popular TV characters to promote a wide variety of foods to young people. SpongeBob episodes, for example, could be viewed on food company websites with cross-links between Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob website and the food company site.

Those techniques are highly effective. Consumer research submitted by the reporting companies confirms the “pester power” phenomenon – child-directed marketing and promotional activities drive children’s food requests. Children, in turn, play an important role in which products their parents purchase at the store, and which restaurants they frequent.  Read more here

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