April 22nd, 2011
FTC Investigating Online Food Marketing to Kids
Once upon a time food marketing meant TV commercials with cartoon leprechauns or rabbits. Now, kids get blitzed round the clock by advertising for Honey Nut Cheerios and the like in the form websites (McWorld by McDonalds), online games (like General Mills’s Create A Comic) and Facebook ads created by companies from Kelloggs to Pringles.
In response, the Federal Trade Commission has undertaken a study about marketing to children that is due out this summer. The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity has pinpointed the marketing of junk food to children as a reason for rising rates of obesity in children. While some might see this as so much hand-wringing, a brief tour of some of the websites created by Kelloggs and others suggests that those companies know who decides what foods to buy at the supermarket and it’s not the mom touting the whole wheat English Muffins—it’s children.
Websites like McWorld and HappyMeal.com receive monthly visitors in the hundreds of thousands, many of whom are under 12 years old. Kelloggs’ Apple Jacks site, which has games and features an iPhone app, receives 549,000 visitors, while General Mills’s Lucky Charms site had 227,000 visitors in February. Some companies have created websites for children that, while they do not overtly feature any food items, are definitely vehicles to advertise the company’s products: Visit McWorld and you’ll find that something—hamburgers, french fries, and the like—is notable by its absence, as the New York Times Bits blog points out.
As Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food and Policy notes that “these marketing efforts were more cost-effective than TV spots because they were cheaper to produce and disseminate and were promoted by the children themselves — through word of mouth or its online equivalent.”