FTC takes healthy interest in how food is marketed to kids

In its July 29 report, Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommended that entertainment and media corporations "restrict the licensing of their characters to healthier foods and beverages that are marketed to children, so that cross-promotions with popular children's movies and [TV] characters will favor more nutritious foods and drinks."

In the news
In its July 29 report, Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommended that entertainment and media corporations "restrict the licensing of their characters to healthier foods and beverages that are marketed to children, so that cross-promotions with popular children's movies and [TV] characters will favor more nutritious foods and drinks."

It also suggested media companies choose ads for "healthier foods and beverages" on kids programs.

Why does it matter?
The FTC encourages industry self-regulation, but is hoping companies will implement changes into their advertising, PR, and marketing, says Betsy Lordan, public affairs specialist for the FTC.

Vickie Fite, MD of Manning Selvage & Lee's LA office who worked with Sunkist Growers on licensing partnerships with children's characters promoting healthy eating, says PR pros should analyze reports like this just as much, if not more than advertisers.

"So much of what we do is based on third-party endorsements," she notes, citing parents, parenting magazines, and others.

Nickelodeon, a major licenser of characters for kids' products, "has adopted a policy in which the use of our licensed characters on food packaging will be limited to products that meet 'better for you' criteria as established by marketing partners, in accordance with governmental guidelines," says a company spokeswoman.

It recently introduced its characters SpongeBob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer on healthy items like spinach and edamame.

Five facts:
1. In 2006, companies spent about $870 million on child-directed marketing and $1 billion on adolescent-directed marketing, according to the FTC report.

2. New media, including company-sponsored Web sites and viral marketing, make up 5% of youth marketing expenditures, for a total of $77 million, the report says.

3. Carbonated drinks ($492 million), restaurant food ($294 million), and cereals ($237 million) spent the most on marketing to kids and adolescents, the FTC finds.

4. Of the children's meals offered at 13 chain restaurants, 93% exceed 430 calories, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

5. Fourteen companies have joined the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a self-regulating program started by the Better Business Bureau in 2006.

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