Posted by: David Kiley on February 1, 2005
General Mills, Kraft and Kellogg have formed an alliance with three advertising lobby groups to stave off regulation that would limit their ability to advertise directly to kids. Bravo.
In the interest of full disclosure, and since I have blogged on this topic a few times, I think I should point out that I was a fat kid. I am also a fat adult, though not nearly as fat I used to be thanks to adjustable lap-band surgery. I have a son who turns three this week. He probably carries the genetic markers for obesity. My wife and I, however, are doing all we can to model good eating habits and exercise. But we know it will be tough the older he gets. Even if he does have the genetic marker, we know that the environment in which he grows up and the education and behavior modeling we provide will determine how fat he gets or doesn’t get.
Let me share the content of a conversation I had recently with an executive at a media outlet that carries childrens programming. He said that the very companies that have formed this alliance have been approached by media outlets over the past 1 to 2 years about advertising healthier stuff on TV programs aimed at kids. And he says they have shown a profound lack of interest. Kids don’t respond to healthy food, he’s been told by the food companies. A few companies not in this alliance have been approached about advertising their healthier offerings on kids programming—un-processed fruits, whole grain breads and crackers. Same response. The risk-benefit ratio doesn’t work. Kids won’t respond to having fresh pineapple and apples advertised to them, the marketers say.
There is group think going on here. And this is thinking that doesn’t so much reflect truth or reality, but the business model they have carved out. My son not only will talk to me about apples, but during a recent trip to the mall, he was facinated by the Apple Computer store. He asked me to pick him up and hold him up to the enormous Apple logo and he mimed taking a bite out of it. My Mother just baked us a batch of cookies with fresh ingredients like oat-meal, fresh ginger and chopped dates. No high-frutcose corn syrup. No guar gum. Not even any chocolate. I had to ration them. And he’s been talking about Grandma’s delicious and healthy cookies all week.
Several European countries have restricted or banned advertising to children on TV and other kid-dominated venues. These regs have come about chiefly as Western food companies have exported unhealthy foods and and our damaged food culture to these countries, and fast food joints have popped up on nearly as many street-corners in Norway, Sweden, Paris and London as New York and Chicago.
I've been around long enough to know these lobbying alliances get formed to hold off regulation, and that no company wants increased regulation. The truth is, though, that these companies have not spent enough capital to develop good tasting, healthier food for everybody, but especially kids. And they haven't invested adequately in marketing better-for-you foods to kids. Fat, salt and sugar are cheap and deliver lots of flavor. It becomes even easier to sell this stuff when you use celebrity athletes and cartoon characters to peddle them. And products heavy in that stuff, or in chemicals meant to deliver the same flavors and mouth experiences, are what these companies' businesses are built on. For the sake of my son and everything my wife and I are trying to do for him, I hope the alliance doesn't get that much traction in Washington or in the State Houses.