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You should combine the ideas of any two of those readings and create a visual related to fast food marketing and childhood obesity.


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Food Marketing to Children in the Context of a Marketing Maelstrom
Author(s): Susan E. Linn
Source: Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol. 25, No. 3/4 (2004), pp. 367-378
Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals
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Accessed: 07-02-2019 18:19 UTC
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Food Marketing to Children in the
Context of a Marketing Maelstrom
jf ; HI LD H OO D obesity is a major public health prob{; c ~lem in the United States, yet US children are targeted
as never before with marketing for foods high in suga
fat, salt, and calories (ii). The advertising industry
stance is that parents should bear sole responsibility
for what and how much their children eat-a simplis-
tic view. We take a close look at the nature, depth, and breadth of
food marketing aimed at children.
While food comprises a large portion of what is
food marketing occurs in the context of a myria
messages to them as well, including advertising fo
cessories, movies, television programs, video gam
consumer goods. Even products traditionally purchased by adults
such as automobiles, dog food, and air travel are now being marketed
to children. While children have been targets for advertising since the
advent of mass marketing, the intensity and frequency of children’s
current exposure to commercial messages is unprecedented.
Today, children between the ages of z and i8 spend almost forty
hours a week outside of school engaged with media, defined in this
article as including television, films, video and computer games,
radio, and print materials, most of which is commercially driven (z).
In spite of the growing popularity of the Internet and computer
games, television is still the primary electronic medium with which
children engage (3). Children are often alone when they watch television, meaning that no adult is present to help them process the marketing messages permeating the medium. Thirty-two percent of children
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ages two to seven have televisions in their rooms, as do 65% of chil-
dren eight to eighteen (4) and 26% of children under two (5).
While television is the most prevalent medium in children’s lives, their
access to the Internet-where the lines between content and marketing
can be blurred-is growing (6). Companies lure children with “adver-
gaming,” in which products are incorporated into computer and video
games as a means of advertising. Companies keep children’s attention
focused on specific brands much longer than with a traditional com-
mercial (7). One site, called Candystand (8) consists of games featuring
products from the food conglomerate Kraft, such as Lifesavers,
Creme Savers and Jello Pudding Bites (9).
Nor is marketing limited to the time children spend outside of school.
In zooo, a report from the federal government’s General Accounting
Office (GAO) called marketing in schools a “growth industry” (io).
Exclusive beverage contracts, corporate-sponsored teaching materials,
book covers featuring ads, and corporate-sponsored newscasts are
just a few of the ways that marketing infiltrates educational settings.
The advertising industry spin is that parents should bear sole responsibility for protecting children from marketing and that parents are to
blame for the unhappy consequences of commercialism (i i ).
In the 1970S, the changing needs of families outstripped the services
provided by public institutions. Children’s advocates observed the
phenomenon of “latchkey kids.” Millions of elementary school children
were home alone from the time they finished school until a parent
returned from work. By the I98os, the phenomenon sparked studies
of their school performance, calls for after-school programs, hotlines
for kids to call if they were frightened, and books written to help children survive on their own at home. Parents at work worried that their
children were going to be prey for all kinds of predators, and instructed
them not to answer the door, or to tell people who telephoned that
their parents were busy in the next room.
These children did not go unnoticed by the advertising industry,
and a new marketing demographic reflected the vulnerability of children
alone at home, unsupervised. As Alan Toman, president of The Marketing Department, an advertising agency, explained in the Chicago
Tribune in I988, ” Latchkey kids are a natural for a lot of consumer
products … We are just beginning to see companies approaching this
particular kids’ market, taking seriously how many purchases kids control and calculating how much potential they represent” (ID).
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Unilever) put out a magazine call
and their parents. The magazine c
as well as four pages of ads for Lipton packaged foods such as Cup
of Soup, Fun Fruit snacks, and fruit drinks (I 3).
For children whose parents felt safer with them at home than roaming the streets, the major housebound activity was watching television.
In I988, the New York Times reported that 8o percent of American kids
were watching TV after school. According to the Times, “Marketers
have been responding. The value of commercial time sold to national
advertisers for syndicated children’s programs, primarily between 3
P.M. and 5 P.M. on weekdays, grew from nothing in I982 to $I07 mil-
lion last year” (I4).
The eighties also saw marketers flocking to newly created cable
television stations. Campbell’s, for instance, created a soup music video
to sell Chunky Soup on the popular teen-oriented cable station, MTV.
In a prescient twist on the refrain of the day, a vice president of research
at the children’s cable television station Nickelodeon announced,
“The latest European research shows that product preferences develop
at a much earlier age than anyone had ever thought … As people begin
to understand this, to see how brand loyalty transfers to adulthood,
there is almost nothing that won’t be advertised as for children” (I 5)
(italics added).
The sheer volume of child-targeted marketing is stressful for families (i 6). As experts on child rearing urge parents to “pick their battles,”
parents are overwhelmed by commercially created battles to fight. If
they are strict about food, should they also be strict about violent
toys, media programs, and music? What about precociously sexualized clothing? Computer, video game, and TV time? Materialism?
As most parents struggle to set limits, corporations often undermine parental authority by encouraging children to nag. They inundate children with images that tend to portray adults as incompetent,
mean, or absent and that encourage children to engage in behaviors
that are troublesome to parents. A i999 article in Advertising Age
begins, “Mothers are known for instructing children not to play with
their food. But increasingly marketers are encouraging them to” (I7).
Instead of acquiescing to parents’ concerns, the marketing industry
often sees parental disapproval as a strong selling point with kids.
When discussing the strategy for selling Kraft Lunchables, a market-
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ing expert put it this way, “Parents do not full
rather their child ate a more traditional lunch-
brand’s appeal among children because it reinfo
in control” (I8).
The amount of money spent on marketing to children doubled during the I99OS and was estimated at about $I 5 billion annually in zooz
(I9). In general, food companies spend enormous sums on marketing. In zooz, McDonalds spent over $I.3 billion on advertising in the
United States alone, making Burger King’s $65o million seem paltry
by comparison. PepsiCo spent more than $I.I billion, outspending
Coca Cola by about $544,000 (zo). Kraft Foods (owned, incidentally,
by tobacco giant Phillip Morris-now called Altria Group), maker of
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Oreos, and Kool-Aid, spent about $465
million in zooi (2i). The year before, Burger King spent $80 million
on advertising just to children (zz) and Quaker Oats spent $I5 million
pitching Cap’n Crunch (23). When it comes to food, children are targets for everything from edible checkers to battery-operated lollipops.
Television Commercials
In spite of the growing popularity of the Internet and computer games,
television is still the primary medium advertisers use to reach children.
Two hours of programming on the Cartoon Network, between 5:30
and 7:30 p.m. on a weekday evening (prime viewing time for children) contained twenty food commercials, or one every six minutes
(24). Almost all of the food commercials children see on television are
for foods high in calories, fat, salt, and/or sugar (z5). Television food
advertising is effective. Children’s requests for food products, misperceptions about nutrition, and increased caloric intake have been shown
to be linked to television advertising. So have parental purchases (z6).
One 30 second food commercial can affect the brand choices of children
as young as two, and repeated exposure has even greater impact (27).
Beyond Commercials:
Tie-ins, Brand Licensing and Product Placement
When considering the degree to which food advertising permeates
television viewing for children, we also have to consider brand licensing (when an image or logo is leased for use on products other than
the one it was created for) and product placement (when products are
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inserted into the content of prog
movies, many of the TV program
companies. For instance, in 2003,
elodeon one Sunday afternoon contained 40 food commercials, or
about one every nine minutes. However, that did not include all of the
programs whose characters are now icons for food products. Nickelodeon’s hit program SpongeBob SquarePants was Kraft’s top selling
Macaroni and Cheese in zooz and the number one “face” shaped
Good Humor Ice Cream Bar (z8). Once a program is associated with
a particular brand, the program itself becomes an ad for that food.
Visit any supermarket and you’ll find shelves filled with examples of
these links between media programs and food manufacturers.
Take another Nickelodeon’s hit program, Rugrats-Chucky, Angelica,
and the other Rugrats tykes now grace packages of Kraft Macaroni and
Cheese, as well as Farley’s Fruit Rolls, a peanut-butter-and-jelly flavored Good Humor ice cream sandwich, and Amurol bubble gum with
comics printed on the gum itself (“view & chew”). Nickelodeon itself
has a line of fruit snacks featuring Nicktoons characters (29).
Tie-ins like these are designed to lure children into selecting foods
associated with favorite movie or TV characters. They are also designed
to keep children continually reminded of products. As one marketing
expert says, corporations are “trying to establish a situation where
kids are exposed to their brand in as many different places as possible throughout the course of the day or the week, or almost anywhere
they turn in the course of their daily rituals” (3 0).
Children’s introduction to TV-linked calories often begins in earnest
with juice. According to Lisa Rant, a beverage industry writer, “The
beverage aisle is brimming with brews for babies, and mom can take
her pick from a plethora of multi- and single-serve solutions with products packaged specifically for the pediatric set. Apple & Eve travels
down Sesame Street with Elmo’s Punch, Big Bird’s Apple, Grover’s
Grape and Bert & Ernie’s Berry juices . .. 5” (3 I).
Sesame Street isn’t the only children’s program to cash in on juice
boxes for the littlest children. Libby’s offers juice boxes adorned with
Arthur characters, and because “toddlers are naturally drawn to colorful graphics and familiar characters, Mott’s made its move with
juice boxes that have featured Nickelodeon’s Rugrats and, more
recently, PBS’ Dragon Tales. The innovative Dragon Tales promotion
ran for six months, with changes in graphics every 4 5 days to ‘refresh’
the campaign” (32).
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From a juice company’s point of view-and that
little juice boxes or containers make sense: they
young child to handle (both physically and with
to transport, and relatively unspillable. As Juli
Gepetto Group, explained, “Companies often find
enough volume with a product designed only fo
… Because this is a relatively short life-stage, t
encourage enough purchase frequency to make sense as a business
proposition. If the line of products can be broad and appropriate for different times of day and drinking occasions, a brand for this consumer
can work” (3 3). Yet the form of juice packaging the article above extols
is exactly the type that the American Academy of Pediatrics has voiced
concern over, suggesting that babies and toddlers may be drinking too
much juice, citing as a factor its easy portability, in the form of covered
cups and juice boxes. In addition to providing babies with too many
calories, sipping juice throughout the day may be harmful to young
children’s teeth (34).
Parents can “just say no” to a toddler’s grocery aisle requests. But toddlers, going through the developmental phase of differentiating themselves from their parents, are prone to do so by actively and tenaciously
asserting their voice, needs, and wants. For media- or brand-saturated
little ones and their parents-even for families who restrict television
viewing to public television-a trip to the grocery store may turn into
a struggle.
Product placement-when a company pays to have its products
inserted in the content of media-is prohibited by law in children’s
television programming, but is rampant in the prime time programs that
are children’s favorites. According to Business Week, Coca Cola paid
$2o million for product placement in the TV show American Idol (3 5)
a favorite of teens and pre teens. On The Gilmore Girls, another popular
show with children, characters eat Kellogg’s Pop Tarts for breakfast (36).
Interestingly enough, the Gilmore Girls was created through a consortium of corporations, including many, such as Kellogg, from the
food industry, called The Family Friendly Programming Forum. The
stated mission of the Forum is to create programming that is good for
families to watch together-programming that is free of excessive
violence and explicit sexuality, but not free of marketing food (3 7).
Thus far, neither films, video games, nor the Internet has regulations
about placing brands within the content of their media products
aimed at children. For instance, McDonald’s food products were
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embedded in the hit children’s film Spy Kids. An executive of Heinz,
commenting on placing EZ Squirt ketchup in the child-oriented web
site, said that product awareness “just went through
the roof . .. Trials of the product increased by I8 per cent” (38).
Meanwhile, other fast food outlets, Pizza Hut and KFC, are destina-
tions along the way in the video/arcade game, Crazy Taxi (39).
Product placement can also be found in children’s books, including
those for babies. Scholastic publishes The M&M Counting book, and
Simon and Schuster has one featuring Oreos. These cardboard books
are particularly troublesome because the covers often look exactly
like the packaging these foods come in. Literacy experts encourage
parents to read to babies and toddlers, citing gains in literacy and the
promotion of positive parent-to-baby bonding. Babies and young children whose mothers or fathers read to them-especially when their
parents take them on their laps or read to them at bedtime-associate
warm, snuggly feelings with reading, and reading itself becomes early
on a pleasurable experience for them. However, if the books they are
reading include the Hershey Kisses: Counting Board Book or the
Skittles Riddles Math book, one can assume that babies are gaining
equally warm, snuggly feelings about candy.
Food companies also market to children through toys. Smuckers, for
instance, has a Cabbage Patch doll, Peanut Butter and Jelly Kid, designed
to sell a product called Goobers. HotWheels makes toy cars sporting
the M&M candy logo. Barbie dolls work at both Pizza Hut and
McDonald’s, and the latter partners with Play Doh and Easy Bake (40).
The United States regulates marketing to children less than most
other industrial democracies. Sweden and Norway ban marketing to
children under twelve (4 I). The Province of Quebec, in Canada, bans
marketing to children under I 3 (42). Greece prohibits ads for toys on
television between 7 A.M. and io P.M. Ads for toy guns and tanks are
not allowed at any time. In the Flemish speaking areas of Belgium, no
advertising is allowed within five minutes of a children’s television
program shown on a local station (43). Advertising regulations proposed by the European Union would ban commercials suggesting that
children’s acceptance by peers is dependent on their use of a product
(44). Finland bans advertisements that are delivered by children or by
familiar cartoon characters (45). The French parliament government
recently banned all vending machines in middle and secondary schools
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(46). New Zealand is considering a ban on junk
(47). And, in 2004, the British Broadcasting Co
keting connections between their children’s pr
food companies (48).
Given their particular vulnerabilities to marketing there is a powerful argument to be made that it is in the best interest of children that
companies refrain from marketing to them at all. How can this discussion proceed in the face of the current political climate in the United
States that favors deregulation of corporate practices in general? Perhaps the mounting evidence linking food advertising to children’s
food consumption suggests that the food industry’s child targeted
marketing is a good place to begin. Even the advertising industry is
expecting new regulations. An online poll published in Advertising
Age found that 77% of respondents think that there is a direct link
between TV ads and childhood obesity (49). In a poll of professionals involved with marketing to youth, 68% of the people responding
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