Food Marketers Want Your Children

Already on Computers | Photo: whiteafrican/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Let's say you have a child. It can be a boy or girl.

Let's say that they're right around the ages of six or seven, right when they're starting to talk to other kids at school and already know the basics about how to navigate a computer, how to use the mouse, how to begin hunting and pecking away at the keyboard. Now, before you start thinking about getting them situated with the Internet, you're certainly going to take the proper precautions by blocking access to certain websites, and maybe even standing over their shoulder to make sure a typo doesn't lead astray from SesameStreet.com to something more sensual and ... European.

Now, imagine that one of those websites, the ones you're trying to keep them away from, actually bought some ad space on one of the pre-approved websites, to the point where if you're heading over to SpongeBob headquarters or The Adventures Of Whoever's Big On The Disney Channel Now, your kids are still being subject to that. That'd be pretty bad, right?

Well, that's basically what corporate food's pulling.

The week before Christmas, the FTC released a study on the marketing habits of food companies, the first such study since 2006. And the findings are a bit disturbing.

Whereas the ad spending from food companies is actually down 19.5% since the last study, what's the problem is exactly where they've decided to place that cash. Instead of going the traditional media route like commercials in TV shows (places that parents have a good grasp of how to hide them if they want to focus on keeping their kids from wanting unhealthy snacks) they've decided to place a bulk of their ad buy in the online realm. Which only makes sense. That's the way the world is going after all. But rather than placing ads all around the entirety of the Internet, on sites like CNN.com or ESPN where they'll mostly hit the parents, they're focusing on placing the ads on "child-oriented" websites.

Now you know why your child suddenly has a hankering for, specifically, Doritos.

And it's not because they got into Papa's "medicine that smells like skunks." It's because these junk food ad companies, as always, know that when it comes to certain foods like cereals or chips or sodas or peanut butter or anything at all, kids are generally the deciders. If a parent can find a food that their child will not only tolerate, but actually request, well that's a no-brainer at the grocery store. The FTC study spells this out:

Research reported by the companies confirmed that food marketing to kids is effective in generating "pester power." One company's research indicated that food ads and packaging were key to children asking for a food item, and 75 percent of parents bought a product for the first time because their child requested it. Another company found that in-store advertising campaigns using child-targeted, character-based themes outperformed those using mom-targeted themes.

That it's effective means they'll keep doing it. Which is another way of saying, don't expect this to stop. Food companies will keep trying to get into your child's mind as they always have. So if you, a parent, think that you're being diligent about what advertising messages get to your kids just by monitoring their TV viewing, you're really only doing half the job.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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