The junk and fast food industries are among the largest in our nation, and the advertising campaigns are far-reaching and contained in every imaginable medium. However, the most widely seen and recognized are television commercials. In 2001, a study conducted by the American Dietetic Association examined the impact that commercial marketing had on preschool age children. This study was conducted on 50 children enrolled in a head start education program in California, these were predominantly from low-income families. The basic premise of the study was to show part of the children a video with commercialization built in and part of the children a video without the commercialization. After viewing the video the children would answer some questions about certain products that were being advertised and choose which product they were more interested in. Across the board, the children who watched the videos with embedded commercialization chose the commercialized product as their preferred product in a higher percentage than the children who did not see commercials. The results of this study are significant. The ultimate conclusion of the study was “Even brief exposures to televised food commercials can influence preschool children’s food preferences. Nutritionists and health educators should advise parents to limit their preschooler’s exposure to television advertisements. Furthermore, advocates should raise the public policy issue of advertising and young children, especially given the recent epidemic of childhood obesity and the ever-changing media environment.” One of the most shocking facts of this study was that they found that it only takes 1 to 2 short exposures to a commercial of a product to significantly affect a child’s preferences.
In America, there are more ways than ever for information to be exchanged and more choices for our entertainment time. Due to the changing media climate in the United States, major corporations are finding new ways to reach their target marketing segments. Internet use among children is growing rapidly, Nielsen ratings reported that usage rates among children grew 34% from October 2004 – October 2005. (Moore, 2006) One of the hottest new advertising methods is reaching children through the internet using “virtual worlds” or Advergaming. McDonald’s launched it’s McWorld website, General Mills has Millsberry and the website Neopets contains many Advergames from sponsors such as Peppridge Farm Goldfish Crackers, Kraft Macaroni and Poweraid. These virtual world sites encourage repeat visitors as the visitor can earn virtual currency from playing games, watching videos and engaging in social activities. This virtual currency is used to purchase clothing or items for the player’s online avatar. On many of these websites, there is advertising in the games themselves, on banner ads, and in other places on the website. On certain sites, the child can gain benefits on the website by purchasing the sponsor’s products. For example, currently on McWorld, a child can get a fairy tale pet for their online avatar by typing in a code that comes with a Happy Meal. All of these advertising methods and subtle encouragement to purchase the products makes internet advertising a very successful way of reaching a greatly desired market segment, children.
Another source of great controversy in this debate is the promotion and selling of junk food and fast food within the school system. In recent years especially, there have been many shortages in funding for the public school system. The schools have been able to replace some of the funding shortages with money from corporations. Pepsi and Coke have both offered financial incentives to school systems to exclusively carry their products (Facts on File 2004) In addition to these incentives, the schools are also making a profit on the actual product being sold in the vending machines. There is also a program called “Channel One” which has a daily 12 minute newscast aimed at students peppered with advertisements for various products. The school systems will receive monetary compensation as well as free televisions and other equipment for agreeing to show the 12 minute show daily. Educators seem to be divided on the issue of advertising in the classroom. Those who see the merits argue that with these advertising dollars that the lower income school districts can compete with the schools in more economically advantaged areas. (Facts on File 2004) With the advertising dollars they are able to purchase equipment they could not have otherwise afforded, or subsidize athletic programs that may have not been able to be run. Even school computers and internet access can be supported through joint advertising ventures. Advertising targeted toward captive audiences such as students is an ethical battle that will be fought more and more as it gains popularity as well as media attention.
Without some serious changes in our current laws with regards to advertising to children, there will likely not be any significant changes to the current marketing plans. There has been some self-regulation among certain companies, however mostly it has been simply highlighting some of their healthier food choices rather than cutting back on their advertising that is aimed at kids. It will probably be many years before the full effect of the advertising towards children is able to be accurately studied and analyzed. The media is an ever-changing landscape, and corporations are trying to find new ways to reach their consumers every day. During the Promotion Marketing Association’s Star Power ’98 conference Wayne Chilicki, an executive at General Mills was quoted to have said “When it comes to targeting kid consumers, we at General Mills follow the Proctor & Gamble model of ‘cradle to grave.’ We believe in getting them early and having them for life.” The ethics of these types of thoughts are likely to be in debate for many years to come.References
Dina L G Borzekowski,Thomas N Robinson,& Tony Peregrin.(2001). The 30-second effect: An experiment revealing the impact of television commercials on food preferences of preschoolers.American Dietetic Association. Journal of the American Dietetic Association,101(1),42-6
Dotinga, R. (2010). Child obesity rates going up. Medline Plus, Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_95897.html
“Junk Food in the ‘Food Guide Pyramid’ (sidebar).” Issues & Controversies On File: n. pag. Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services, 29 Mar. 2002
Lumeng, J. (2010). Bullies target obese kids. Medline Plus, Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_98305.html
Moore, E. S. (2006). It’s child’s play – advergaming and the online marketing of food to children. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/7536.pdf
“Youth-Oriented Advertising: Statistical Update.” Issues & Controversies On File: n. pag. Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services, 23 Mar. 2007. Web.