By Crystal Lindell
It’s not a great day to be in the treat-making business.
Everyone is all bent out of shape about being out of shape, and confectioners - with their sugars and their fats and their indulgent nature - seem to make such a sweet target.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a policy statement that analyzes the effects of “junk food” marketing on children, and among its points is a strong case against interactive marketing aimed at kids.
In fact, the organization recommends that Congress and the Federal Communications Commission prohibit interactive advertising involving junk food or fast food to children via digital TV, cell phones or other media.
The group sites statistics that show 63% of the top five brands in eight different food and beverage categories had advergames (games used to advertise the product); and half the sites urged children to ask their parents to buy the product, yet only 17% contained any nutritional information.
I sympathize with the worries regarding childhood obesity, I really do, but my initial reaction is to cautiously side with the junk food companies here.
That’s because I know that if I was your PR woman, and you were selling candy without help from Facebook, Twitter and some sort of game that involves either farming or hitting an angry bird, we’d have some serious problems. (Also, we’d totally nix the whole “junk food” wording, and instead start calling it “fun food,” but that’s another battle for another day).
So, I completely understand the desire for confectionery companies to use interactive marketing to reach their target audience. In fact, I’d go so far to say that any company being asked to make a profit has a responsibility to explore and use these advertising methods in this day and age. They’re usually cheap, effective, and fun.
As is often the case though, those same companies have another responsibility too - their consumers. And I hope they know the power they have and how it’s expanding everyday. At first glance, at least, the Grocery Manufactures Association seems to have a pretty good idea.
They claim that industry leaders have changed more than 20,000 products to reduce calories, fat, sodium and sugar with a pledge to remove 1.5 trillion calories by 2015; applied strict nutrition criteria to advertising; and launched nutrition keys and front-of-pack nutrition labeling. The industry also has decreased the number of food and beverage ads seen on shows viewed primarily by children by 50% since 2004.
But probably the most notable thing the industry has done was the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which launched in 2006. Under the initiative, 17 of America’s largest food and beverage companies apply science-based nutrition standards to marketing viewed by children, including on TV and digital media.
“A healthy diet and more physical activity, rather than bans or restrictions, are keys to a healthy lifestyle,” reads a release from the GMA.
I’ll toast my soda to that any day of the week.
It looks like food makers have a few options on their plate - depending upon their means, they could do one or all of the following: add nutritional information to all kids websites, foster local involvement in promoting physical activity, sponsor nutritional programs at schools and create healthier choices.
Of course, they won’t be able to do any of those things if they can’t sell their product in the first place. Good thing advertising methods are evolving to help them do that.