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Senate Bill Seeks To Shine A Brighter Light On Marketing To Children

Posted by: David Kiley on November 10, 2005

Association of National Advertisers lobbiest Dan Jaffe has responded by blog to a provision in the Senate Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill, won by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, that the FTC regularly report on the food industry’s marketing activities and expenditures targeted toward children and adolescents. No surprise, Jaffe doesn’t like it much.

Harkin has been a firebrand on the subject of childhood obesity, and has even gone so far to criticize the rampant use of high fructose corn syrup in so much processed food aimed at kids, despite the fact that he represents a big corn state. I’ve always thought that was gutsy.

Harkin, like a lot of critics of Big Food and Madison Avenue, is concerned that too much messaging is aimed at young kids about unhealthy food, candy, cookies, soda pop and the like. Harkin goes as far as to call the environment being created by food companies and ad agencies as “toxic.”

Says Jaffe: “Senator Harkin’s point of view regarding the “toxic” environment has been undercut by study after study. We carried out an analysis of Nielsen data with the Grocery Manufacturers of America that demonstrated broadcast advertisements for food, beverage, and restaurants have declined over the past 10 years in the U.S., while obesity rates were rising. Our data was confirmed by a study by Pauline Ippolito of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics, which found the amount of TV advertising for food and restaurant companies has decreased 34% on national children’s programming from 1977 to 2004.”

While Jaffe summons up the study by the FTC, and not just the self-served findings of the ANA and GMofA, the critical thing in the statistics here is “TV advertising.” During the time-frame of the study, a gizmo called the Internet was taking shape. Kid magazines were increasing. Marketing in and around schools—everything from sponsored lesson plans by Kraft to sponsored sports stadiums by Coca-Cola. Let’s not forget how hard Coke and Pepsi gought to get soda machines into schools. And then there’s in-store marketing. Stores had to be told not to stack all the crappy stuff at eye level and arm’s reach of kids when they are in the store. Video and DVDs had commercials in them too. And how about the rampant licensing of cartoon characters on food parents try and ration to their kids. It seems a little thin to focus exclusively on some sample of TV programming for kids, arbitrarily measure food ads, come up with a percentage decline in messaging and say…”Don’t look at us.”

Sure, there is a freedome of speech issue here. And having the FTC track this topic will provide fodder for both sides for years to come.

There is an old saying, of course, that goes: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. We all know our kids are pelted with ads for bad food and video games. It’s in our lives every day. The media is liquid. Just focusing on TV doesn’t cut it. And if the Senate bill goes through, compelling the FTC to track this activity as the basis for future government scrutiny on ad practices, they had better have a big net to capture all the ways media messages find their ways to kids heads.

To the FTC, I say…good luck with all that.

Reader Comments


November 14, 2005 12:09 PM

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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