Marketing to Kids – Food Marketing

This is a post in a new series about Marketing To Kids. A large part of parenting is marketing. While you are promoting creativity, independent thinking, and healthy habits, marketers are spending billions of dollars trying to turn your child into a customer. These posts are all about the ways they do it.

Our children are the first generation in 200 years that is predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Amazing advances in medicine, nutrition, technology, and standards of living, and yet our children will have a shorter life span? This frightens me, and I feel we should to stop to ask ourselves why.

Advances in technology also mean more choices for entertainment – most of them of the inactive variety. Not only do our kids spend more time in front of the television and computers, they are seeing more commercials and advertisements for foods with unpronounceable ingredients and no nutritional value.

Don’t watch too much television? There are still plenty of sneaky ways your child is being marketed to.

Here are just a few:

Advertainment – Advertainment games are essentially advertisements masquerading as entertainment. They are sponsored or entirely created by marketing companies with the sole purpose of exposing children to their products – and collecting their information.

A popular spot for kids on the web is “Neopets” where kids create virtual pets, earn money, and items to take care of there pets through playing branded games such as cereal adventure games, visiting the Disney theater, or buying their pet’s food from McDonalds.

It is even scarier when you combine advertainment with mobile phones. Parents have little control over the incoming texts and advertisements that can be delivered by mobile phone. . Kellogg’s has a website with games, contests, and trivia that require mobile phone numbers. The hidden purpose of this website is buried in their privacy info page: “So that we may better tailor our advertising and offers to you and inform you about products and services that we offer that may be of interest, we will automatically share the personal information that you provide with other Kellogg brands unless you uncheck the applicable box at the registration area.”

Product placement - Product placement is BIG business. Also known as embedded marketing, product placement is placing brand name goods in places that do not traditionally have commercials, such as in games, movies, and television shows. There are many reasons marketers use product placement, the main reason being it allows marketers to target a specific demographic (your child). The product placement market will be worth approximately 10 billion dollars in 2010.

For example, instead of ACME like in the old Wily Coyote & Roadrunner cartoons, the characters of the movie “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” get all of their supplies from a Walmart in Death Valley.  On TV, American Idol showed 4,151 product placements in its first 38 episodes in 2008 for a total of 545 minutes, fourteen minutes of advertised product placements in an hour-long TV show (that’s not counting the actual commercial breaks either).*

Character licensing - The next time you go grocery shopping, take a close look at the products, especially the snack and processed food aisles. You will find lots of colorful packages often featuring the current “in” character. Who better to sell products to your kids than those familiar characters they already know and love? It also gets very confusing for children, as characters are great at sending mixed messages. The same character might be be used for several different products, occasionally even healthy ones – if the producer can pay the licensing fee. Dora the Explorer, a popular character among pre-school children, is on both chocolate lollipops and Green Giant Fruits and Vegetables.

Marketing in Schools – Perhaps the most damaging and worrying trend is the increasing prevalence of marketing in schools. When education receives less government funding, the shortfall must be made up and big companies are more than happy to support schools in exchange for a little advertising space.

To quote Appetite for Profit: How the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back:

“Food and beverage companies are positioning themselves as partners in the fight against childhood obesity, yet corporations such as Coca Cola and Pepsico have consistently lobbied against state and local legislation to curb the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages in schools”

Junk and fast food advertising is also masquerading in education. Coca Cola, Pepsico and McDonalds all offer school fitness programs, and McDonalds sponsors literacy and reading programs.

SunnyD – a “fruit juice” beverage for children that contains High Fructose Corn Syrup (listed as Glucose-Fructose here in Canada) as well as artificial colorants that are known carcinogens and potentially linked to obesity, hyperactivity and allergies in children – has just launched a fund-raising campaign with Scholastic books that encourages “SunnyD parties” in the classroom and encourages kids to collect SunnyD labels for Scholastic books for the classroom. You can see the campaign here.

Even preschooler’s can’t escape the marketing. American Greetings developed a program to introduce the Care Bears to a new generation of kids. The “Your Never Too Young To Care” program features care bear-themed posters, coloring activities, songs and other materials – all touting Care Bears – that can be found at Toys R’ Us.

Then there are the fund-raising activities encouraged by schools and food marketers. The Center for Science in the Public Interest brought this fact to light: “Campbell and General Mills each sponsor popular label redemption programs that are surprisingly unprofitable. To earn a $300 digital camcorder, parents would have to buy 27,850 cans of Campbell’s soup, about $33,000 worth. Twenty-two labels, or $26.40 worth of soup, would be required to earn a single colored pencil. Also, CSPI found that 80 percent of eligible products are unhealthy.”

Some would argue that marketing to kids is just a way of life and a sign of the times. I think we owe it to our children to be more informed about what they are being exposed to and to teach them the marketing tactics that are used to influence what they consume.

How does marketing affect your family? How do you curb consumerism? Please share your thoughts!

*Grover, R. (2008, May 22). American Idol ads infinitum. Business Week. Retrieved August 5, 2008, from http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_22/b4086038607130.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index_news+%2B+analysis

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