by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Marketing to kids

Sep 25 2013

Tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST: MythBusters

Anna Lappé has a new entry in her Food MythBuster film series, this one on marketing to kids.

You can watch the trailer at the website, and also sign up for the  launch event to participate in the live Q&A session online.

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Sep 19 2013

White House Convening on Food Marketing to Children

If kids really are to eat more healthfully, food and beverage companies have to stop pushing products at them.  But if companies don’t market to kids, they lose money.  Regulation would solve the problem, but is not politically feasible.  Voluntary efforts are limited to companies that agree to participate.   Short of regulation, what more can be done?

This invitation felt like history in the making.  I accepted with pleasure.

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Mrs. Obama’s speech alone was well worth the trip.

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You can see it for yourself thanks to Eddie Gehman Kohan, who posted a video and a transcript of the speech on her ObamaFoodorama site.

Here is a small excerpt:

And I’m here today with one simple request — and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids…the goal here is to empower parents instead of undermining them as they try to make healthier choices for their families.  And we need you to lead the way in creating demand for healthy foods so that kids actually start “pestering” us for those foods in the grocery store.  And then parents actually start buying them, and then companies have incentives to make and sell even more of those foods.

And ideally, in a decade or so, we would see a dramatic shift across the entire industry.  We’d see companies shifting marketing dollars away from those less healthy products and investing those dollars in your healthier products instead…See, the decisions that you make about marketing won’t just affect what our kids are eating today — those decisions are going to also affect the health of your workforce tomorrow…. You see, over the past few years, we’ve seen some real changes in the foods our kids are eating, starting from the time they’re born…this isn’t just some passing trend or fad.

So there might be those out there whose strategy is to just wait this out — folks who might still be thinking to themselves, well, in a few years, this lady will be gone — (laughter) — and this whole Let’s Move thing will finally be over, so we can go back to business as usual.  And I know that none of you here are thinking that way.  (Laughter.)  But if you know anyone who is — (laughter) — you might want to remind them that I didn’t create this issue, and it’s not going to go away three and a half years from now when I’m no longer First Lady.

Obama Foodorama also posts the list of who attended.  This was a diverse group of representatives of the food industry, trade associations, media, government agencies, private organizations, and universities who sought common ground.

A few points seemed clear from the discussion:

  • Some food companies are making substantial progress in trying to reduce their marketing of less healthful foods.
  • Advocates wish they would do more, faster.
  • The business barriers are formidable.

I think it’s wonderful that the First Lady is taking on this critical topic, impressive that such diverse opinions were represented, and remarkable that this meeting, if nothing else, holds the possibility of opening the door to further discussion.

An open door is needed.  As Bill Dietz, a former CDC official who was at the meeting, told FoodNavigator: “the food industry has repeatedly thwarted federal efforts to curb food marketing to kids.”

Center for Science in the Public Interest has some suggestions for what the next steps should be.

Cheers to Let’s Move! for taking this on.

Jul 24 2013

Michele Obama to La Raza: Hold companies responsible for what they make and market to kids

It’s been more than three years since Michele Obama’s speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association about the unhealthy effects of their food marketing on kids.

But she’s back, this time talking to an audience representing specific targets of food industry marketing—Hispanics.

In a speech to the National Council of La Raza, she said:

While we still have a long way to go, the good news is that right now, we have everything we need to reclaim our children’s health — that is, if we’re willing to step up and continue to do our part in our own families and communities.

And that starts by using our power as consumers to hold companies responsible for the food they make and how they market it to our kids.

In 2008 alone, companies spent well over half a billion dollars on food, beverage and restaurant ads in Latino media markets — many of them for unhealthy products.

And those of us with kids who have seen our kids begging and pleading for something they saw on TV, we know just how persuasive these ads can be.

So we all know that the food industry has some serious work to do when it comes to how they market food to our kids.

But here’s the thing — ultimately, we all have the power to decide whether or not to actually buy those foods…Goya can produce low-sodium products, but if we don’t buy them, they will stop selling them….

In the end, we create the demand for these products and it’s up to us to demand quality, affordable food that is good for our kids.  But it’s on us.  (Applause)

OK, so she’s not exactly calling for boycotts or talking about legislation that might put some limits on food industry marketing.  But reading between the lines, it comes pretty close.

(Applause) indeed!

Apr 23 2013

Marketing foods and drinks to kids in school goes on and on

I’ve just been sent a new report on the current status of marketing foods and beverages to children at school: Promoting Consumption at School: Health Threats Associated with Schoolhouse Commercialism.

This reportfrom the National Education Policy Center at University of Colorado, Boulder,  makes sobering reading.

As the press release explains,

In their quest for additional funding, many schools and school districts have allowed corporations to promote the consumption of sweetened beverages and foods of little or no nutritional value in school and in conjunction with school projects…corporations can seem philanthropic when they provide sponsored educational materials…to schools and teachers. These materials can be colorful and engaging, and may align with state and now Common Core standards, but they also present a worldview consistent with that of the sponsor.

If you think that the food companies are making good on their pledges to reduce marketing to kids, this report will make you think again.

Here are a few snippets:

  • Available data suggest that the total amount of money spent on advertising food and beverages to children, both in and out of schools, has decreased over the past few years.  However, any reduction in spending reflects at least in part a shift to less expensive, but more effective, alternative media advertising.
  • Food and beverage companies advertise in schools in multiple ways: (1) appropriation of space on school property, (2) exclusive agreements, (3) sponsorship of school programs, (4) sponsorship of supplementary educational materials, (5) digital marketing, (6) sponsorship of incentive programs, and (7) fundraising.
  • Teaching materials may not mention the sponsor but reflect the sponsor’s views, such as that all beverages count toward hydration.
  • Digital marketing to school kids is a deliberate strategy, as explained by a Coca-Cola executive:  “We’re especially targeting a teen or young adult audience. They’re always on their mobile phones and they spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet.”
  • Health and wellness initiatives designed to promote physical activity and movement may appear to meet federal guidelines but “are problematic in that they shift the onus for obesity from the corporation’s responsibility to market healthy food to the consumer’s responsibility for making healthy choices.”

The report is a terrific summary of what’s happening with food marketing in schools, loaded with facts, figures, and references.  

In light of the evidence it provides, the report’s recommendation seems grossly understated:

Policymakers should prohibit advertising in schools unless the school provides compelling evidence that their intended advertising program causes no harm to children.

What’s missing from this report is a blueprint for action.

For that, you must go elsewhere, for example, to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Berkeley Media Studies Group, or the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Do you know of other good sources for taking action on marketing in schools?  Do tell.

Dec 28 2012

The FTC’s latest report on food marketing to kids: glass half full or empty?

Last Friday was a big day for releasing reports that federal agencies would rather keep quiet.  As I discussed in my previous post, the FDA released its long overdue environmental impact report on GM Salmon.

Today, let’s take a look at the FTC’s latest report on the state of food and beverage marketing aimed at children. This is a follow-up to the report the FTC issued in 2008.

The new report cites progress.  From 2006 to 2009, its press release says:

  • Total spending on food marketing to youth ages 2-17 dropped from $2.1 billion to $1.79 billion, mainly because of less spending on television advertising.
  • But spending on new media, such as online, mobile, and viral marketing, increased by 50 percent.
  • Cross-promotions that link marketed foods with popular children’s movies and TV characters increased from 80 children’s movies and TV shows to 120.
  • Cereals had 0.9 gram less sugar and 1.6 grams more whole grain.
  • Fast food was a  little lower in calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.

The report concludes:

Despite the commendable progress, this report identifies areas where further efforts could be made by the food and beverage industry and the media industry to improve the nutritional quality of foods marketed to youth.

Whether you see this as good news or not such good news depends on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty.

If you are a half-full type, you will rejoice that food companies are voluntarily improving the nutritional quality of their products even if the improvements are small.

If you are a half-empty type (which, in this case, I am), you will be dismayed at the lack of real progress in reducing the marketing of junk foods to kids.

Companies must sell more and more products to grow their businesses.  They are under pressure to reduce such marketing and to improve the quality of the products they sell.  Neither change is likely to increase sales.   Hence: resistance to change.

As Andy Bellatti points out, small nutritional improvements are unlikely to have much of an effect on health: reducing the sugars by 0.9 grams can be interpreted as “better for you” but does not necessarily make a product a good choice.

And as Michele Simon’s interview with former marketer Bruce Bradley suggests, the data on which the FTC based its positive assessments may well have been gamed by the companies reporting it.

As I read this report, it provides plenty of evidence that stopping food and beverage marketing to kids is the issue that matters most to doing something to reverse childhood obesity.

The election is over.    Maybe Let’s Move! can revisit the marketing-to-kids issue.  Someone needs to do it.  And soon.

 

Dec 20 2012

Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal: Implications for Let’s Move!

In response to my post a couple of days ago about Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal, a reader asks:

How do you think the White House should respond to this deal.? Beyoncé’s song is featured on White House website and a Let’s Move! t-shirt she designed is given to kids at official events.  Will kids make the connection?  Can all that dancing overcome the effects of eating too much?

Let me deal with these one at a time.  First, the problem this poses to Let’s Move!  People concerned about the role of sugary sodas in childhood obesity are appalled by Beyoncé’s deal with Pepsi, so much so that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has organized a campaign to call on her to reconsider.   Unless she does reconsider and withdraws from the deal, her continued involvement with Let’s Move! raises exactly the questions you ask.

Beyoncé has just put Let’s Move! in a painfully awkward conflict of interest.  On the one hand, Let’s Move! promotes healthy diet and activity patterns to reverse childhood obesity.  On the other, its celebrity spokesperson is now going to be pushing Pepsi.  Beyoncé’s image will now appear on Pepsi cans—I hope not wearing her Let’s Move! tee shirt.

What the Beyoncé deal points out is the hazard of partnerships and alliances between public health groups and food companies.

In April 2011, the Washington Post reported that “A White House spokesman said that the first lady and her team weren’t involved in the making of the clip but that Beyonce is “a great example of how people can get involved with ‘Let’s Move!’ and bring this message to more and more young people.”

But now this.  The White House has long maintained that food and beverage companies are not going away and that it is obliged to work with them.  Maybe, but on whose terms?  I see Beyoncé’s $50 million partnership with Pepsi as a slap in the face to Let’s Move!  It puts Let’s Move! in the position of promoting Pepsi or asking Beyoncé to withdraw from having anything to do with it.

As for how kids are going to figure this out:  All kids know is that Beyoncé is a gorgeous mega-star, one who is able to perform vigorous dance moves in astonishingly high heels, and that Pepsi helps her do so or at least doesn’t hurt.  Beyoncé is especially a role-model for African-American kids.  Pepsi targets its marketing to African-American kids.  This looks like a serious conflict of interest.

On the balance between diet and activity: How I wish that physical activity alone could reverse obesity.  Physical activity is terrific for health (I’m not sure about those stiletto heels) but it’s rarely enough to reverse obesity on its own.  To lose weight—and, these days, to maintain healthy weight—kids absolutely must eat less and eat better.

Beyoncé has done Michelle Obama no favor by getting involved with Pepsi.  This is a mess, and not one that can be gracefully fixed.

Dec 18 2012

Let’s Ask Marion: Beyoncé’s Bubbly Branding Falls Flat

It’s been awhile since Kerry Trueman posed an “Ask Marion” question, but here’s her latest Q and my A  as posted on Civil Eats.

By  on 
Q. From the moment Beyoncé strapped on those silly stilettos to bounce around in the “Move Your Body” video, she’s been a wobbly spokesperson for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Campaign.” Now she’s signed a $50 million dollar deal with Pepsi, which will presumably entail her exhorting her millions of young fans to baste their bodies in bubbly high fructose corn syrup.

Apparently, she didn’t get the childhood obesity/diabetes epidemic memo. Do celebrities with Beyoncé’s massive influence on young kids have a moral obligation to consider the horrendous impact of excessive soda consumption in our culture when they mull over megabuck branding opportunities?

A.  From my privileged position as a tenured, full-salaried faculty member at NYU, the answer is an unambiguous yes. Beyoncé will now be marketing sugar-sweetened beverages, products increasingly linked to childhood obesity, especially among minority children.

This linkage is not a coincidence. Pepsi and other makers of sugary sodas deliberately and systematically market their products to low-income, minority children.

Beyoncé will now be part of that targeted marketing campaign.

If Beyoncé’s mission is to inspire young people of any color to look gorgeous and rise to the top, as she has done, she is now telling them that the way to get there—and to get rich—is to drink Pepsi. This untrue suggestion is, on its own, unethical.

Pepsi must think that getting this message out, and putting Beyoncé’s photo on its soda cans, is well worth $50 million.

For PepsiCo, $50 million is trivial. According to Advertising Age (June 2012), PepsiCo sold $66.5 billion worth of products in 2011, for a profit of $6.4 billion. Pepsi sales in the U.S. accounted for $22 billion of that.

PepsiCo’s total advertising budget funneled through advertising agencies, and therefore reportable, was $944 million. Of that amount, $196 million was used to market Pepsi alone. The rest went for Gatorade ($105 million), Mountain Dew ($23 million) and PepsiCo’s many other Quaker and Frito-Lay products.

One other relevant point: half of PepsiCo’s annual sales are outside the United States. Like other multinational food companies, it is focusing marketing efforts on emerging economies. This means that Beyoncé will also be pushing sugary drinks on people in developing countries. PepsiCo just spent $72 million to sponsor cricket tournaments in India, for example.

Fifty million dollars seems like an unimaginable amount of money to me. If PepsiCo offered it to me, I would have to turn it down on the grounds of conflict of interest. But this is easy for me to say, because the scenario is so unlikely.

What $50 million means for Beyoncé I cannot know. Some sources estimate her net worth at $300 million. If so, $50 million adds a substantial percentage. And the Pepsi deal will give her phenomenal exposure.

But from where I sit, Beyoncé has crossed an ethical line. She is now pushing soft drinks on the very kids whose health is most at risk. And her partnership with Pepsi will make public health measures to counter obesity even more difficult.

This is a clear win for Pepsi. And a clear loss for public health.

Beyoncé has now become the world’s most prominent spokesperson for poor diets, obesity and its health consequences, and marketing targeted to the most vulnerable populations.

Sad.

Dec 5 2012

Shouldn’t Nickelodeon adopt better nutrition standards for the products it advertises?

More than 80 health groups, doctors, and nutritionists (including me) just sent a letter urging Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom, to adopt stricter standards for its advertisers to children.

Marketing to children is the frontier of healthy eating efforts.  As the Institute of Medicine reported in 2005, marketing directed at children is demonstrably effective at getting kids to want products, pester their parents for them, and believe that snacks, fast food, and sodas are “kids’ food” and what they are supposed to be eating.

Efforts to get food companies to cease and desist targeting kids for ads run up against business imperatives to expand sales and report growth to Wall Street every quarter.

For some years now, the kids’ TV station Nickelodeon has been struggling to find an economically viable way to restrict marketing of the worst products.  But if Nickelodeon establishes commonly accepted nutrition standards for products it permits to be advertised, those standards will exclude most advertisers.  “Economically viable” is what this is about.

This is precisely the same dilemma caused by the ill-fated Interagency Working Group report earlier this year.  I thought its proposed standards were too generous.  Food companies thought they were too restrictive.  The government backed off.

Now Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is trying another method.  It organized a letter-writing campaign to press Nickelodeon to adopt nutrition standards like those adopted by Disney a few months ago.

If you think this is a good idea, you too can sign onto the campaign right here.

Short of regulation, public pressure might be just what’s needed to encourage Nickelodeon—and food companies—to stop marketing junk foods to kids.