March 7th, 2011

Kids' TV Up Despite Regulatory Challenges

Advertising Age

The reformulation of sugary, fatty and high-sodium foods aimed at kids that began in 2007 was supposed to be a wake-up call to the kids media marketplace. The changes to the products, resulting from years of watchdog-group scrutiny and FCC recommendations, sent shockwaves through the sales departments of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney as they scrambled to work with their partners to find new ways to market their products.

Four years later, a lot of that ad money has come back—even as sales of some affected products have slowed.

The kids’ upfront finished as much as 5% up last year, compared to 2009, at just under $1 billion, on the strength of strong spending among toys, movie studios and renewed spending from packaged-food and quick-service restaurant advertisers. This year’s kids upfront is expected to increase another 3% to 5% based on early estimates from multiple executives. Driving that resurgence is a new focus on targeting parents vs. kids, and a commitment to marketing healthful products.

As part of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, issued by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, 17 advertisers, from Burger King to Kraft to Mars, have pledged to improve the health content of their products and change their marketing strategies. Elaine Kolish, VP-director of the CFBAI, said advertisers were in 2007 required to promote healthy products in at least 50% of their media targeted to kids, but all the participating marketers ended up promoting those products in all their kids’ ad time. In January 2010 that became an official requirement. Additionally, Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Mars and Hershey’s have all committed to not advertising at all to children under 12.

Food ads are certainly less frequent than non-food ads in an informal media study conducted by the CFBAI last spring. During a 38-hour review of kids’ programming, only 24% of all ads were for food-related products, the rest were for non-food products like games and movies, which were twice as prevalent.

“Our goal is not to reduce the number of ads to kids but to shift the content [of the ads],” Ms. Kolish said. “Companies have had to discontinue some products, reformulate others and innovate new products once budgets became effective. It’s led to reductions in calories, salt and trans fats.”

But ads for unhealthful foods haven’t disappeared entirely, said one kids’ cable sales executive. “The loophole is they still advertise those brands, they just do it in different places,” the executive said, noting that daytime broadcast programming has benefitted from such shifts. “High-sugar cereal, high-sodium lunches, those products’ budgets have only been redirected, not cut.” The idea is to target moms—and the kids who might be watching with them.

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