Friday, June 15, 2007

Kellogg's Out of the Kids Ads Game? Not Quite

In the aftermath of yesterday's big announcement that Kellogg will now restrict itself from advertising sugary cereals to kids under 12 years (which also resulted in the lawsuit against them being dropped), I thought I'd briefly gather together some of the news items and "inside scoop" on how it all went down. The planned lawsuit against Kellogg's involved not only individual parents, but also the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The company was in negotiations with these organizations for over a year--you can read the CCFC press release here, and the Kellogg press release here. And while the CCFC admits that Kellogg's new policy "doesn’t go as far as we would like" it should nonetheless be considered as "a tacit admission that the advertising practices favored by the food industry have had a powerful influence on children’s food choices and have had a negative effect on children’s health and well-being." As per the CCFC press release, here are the details of their agreement:
Foods advertised on media—including TV, radio, print, and third-party websites—that have an audience of 50 percent or more children under age 12 will have to meet Kellogg’s new nutrition standards, which require that one serving of the food has:
• No more than 200 calories;
• No trans fat and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat;
• No more than 230 milligrams of sodium (except for Eggo frozen waffles);
• No more than 12 grams of sugar (excluding sugar from fruit, dairy, and vegetables).

In addition, Kellogg will not:
• Advertise to children under 12 in schools and preschools.
• Sponsor product placements for any products in any medium primarily directed at kids under 12;
• Use licensed characters on mass-media advertising directed primarily to kids under 12, as a basis for a food form, or on the front labels of food packages unless those foods meet the nutrition standards;
• Use branded toys in connection with foods that do not meet the nutrition standards.

What does this all mean for the kids' commercial media environment? Since ads for sugar cereals and other food products make up the bulk of advertising shown during children's programming, cuts in ads without alternative funding sources (alternative funding please!) could (would) mean far less revenue and incentive to broadcast kids' shows...or at least that's what the industry threatens (admittedly, this has happened before, when the FCC and CAB implemented those first bans on kids' tv advertising in the 1970s, and commercial kids' tv programming took a nose-dive....although it also resulted in the birth of a number of high-quality, publicly-funded children's programs). While the press is already calling foul, the reality is much less dramatic. Kellogg's ban on kids' advertising will only apply to "unhealthy" products, and since they plan on cutting the sugar content, as well as fat, trans fat and salt contents from all of its existing products, the decision is unlikely to have much of an effect on their advertising practices. As the Globe and Mail's McKenna writes:
Kellogg, along with its Canadian subsidiary, said that by the end of next year all of its products will be reformulated to meet new, tougher health standards or they won't be advertised to children under the age of 12.

The company also vowed to stop using cartoon characters, such as Shrek or Tony the Tiger, for products that fall short of the new standard.

Still, I agree with the CCFC that it's good to see the food industries on the defensive. After years of denying any correlation between increases in kids' advertising and concurrent increases in childhood obesity rates, a new stance that not only includes augmenting the nutritional value of kids' foods but also acknowledging the possibility that the millions of dollars the industry spends advertising to young children might actually have some sort of impact on their food preferences, might be just what the CCFC and similar campaigns need to initiate policy revisions in North America.

Here are links to some of yesterday's coverage:
CBS News
Globe and Mail
Shaping Youth

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