Category Archives: Food Advertising Targeting Children

McDonalds doesn’t want kids to see Ronald McDonald eating a Big Mac

RonFood marketing to kids is a very controversial subject. There have been many different studies done that do show that all the characters and computer games and TV commercials influence kids to beg their parents for foods we’d probably rather they not eat. And there have been many “agreements” between food companies that have them pledging to change their marketing strategies when it comes to bad food and kids. Most of those pledges aren’t technically broken, as food companies find different ways to get their messages across to the youngest among us. Fast food companies make attempts at making their children’s meals healthier, but somehow or another those fries seem to sneak back into that Happy Meal. Are the food companies intentionally sidestepping responsibility? And what about that Happy Meal anyway?

When Ronald McDonald was first introduced to America in the 1960s, he wore a magic belt that dispensed an endless supply of hamburgers.

But today, according to both food advocates and McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, America’s most recognizable clown won’t go near a Big Mac.

“You don’t see Ronald McDonald in schools. You don’t see him eating food,” Thompson said Thursday at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, according to multiple reports.

This, health activists say, is so McDonald’s can deflect criticism that it willfully markets the unhealthy food to children.

“They think that by not having him consume the food, it’s not encouraging kids to patronize the brand,” said Jesse Bragg of Corporate Accountability International, a food advocacy group that has been pushing for Ronald’s retirement for years.

In the past, said Bragg, McDonald’s has been criticized for having Ronald visit schools to teach phys ed and appear in connection with charities that work on behalf of sick children.

The company has kept Ronald at arm’s length from its food for years now, nutrition advocates say.

“At least since they joined the Better Business Bureau program in 2006, they’ve been saying they wouldn’t use Ronald McDonald to sell food,” said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that says it helped persuade McDonald’s to join an inititative run by the BBB that sets nutrition standards for advertising food to children under 12.

And Ronald’s abstemious habits may go back much further than that. Geoffrey Giuliano, who portrayed Ronald in public appearances in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is today an outspoken critic of the company, once said in an interview that he “was never allowed to eat the food” while in character because it would have been “unseemly.”

In 2007, Jim Skinner, then CEO of McDonald’s, told Reuters that “Ronald McDonald has never sold food to kids in the history of his existence.”
When asked if it was official policy to keep Ronald McDonald away from the food he was created to promote, McDonald’s spokeswoman Becca Hary said only that “when Ronald McDonald appears in public, he is focused on spreading joy and smiles.” Hary declined to comment on how long this has been the case.

Marketing experts say it doesn’t really matter whether Ronald is ever actually seen eating in public: Kids will still associate him with Big Macs and Happy Meals.

“Kids are hardwired to think that he equals McDonald’s,” said branding strategist Adam Hanft, founder of the marketing firm Hanft Projects.
“There’s a test in marketing where they put people under a full magnetic resonance imaging machine, like a brain scan essentially, and they show people images, and different parts of the brain light up,” Hanft said. “If you showed kids Ronald McDonald, all the reward centers of the brain would go crazy like July 4th. Because he equals the hamburger.”

Ronald McDonald doesn’t sell food? His sole purpose is to spread joy and smiles? FoodFacts.com doesn’t remember Toucan Sam eating Froot Loops. Snap, Crackle and Pop never ate Rice Krispies. They still sold products. Ronald McDonald isn’t an ambassador of goodwill — he’s the mascot for McDonald’s hamburgers. That’s not a smiley face embroidered on his pocket — he wears the golden arches on his jumpsuit.

Come on McDonald’s, we may be gullible, but we are smart enough to understand why the big guy exists. And even if the kids don’t realize it, when they see him they ask their moms for a hamburger.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/28/ronald-mcdonald-is-never_n_5380825.html

Food advertising on children’s websites doesn’t meet current nutritional standards

FoodFacts.com has featured our share of blog posts reviewing the ongoing battle to increase the quality of advertising foods targeted to children. In the past food companies have pledged to self-regulate the ads they are placing in the media, promising to promote healthier products for kids.

A new study out of the Yale Rudd Center and published online in Pediatric Obesity, finds that companies are placing billions of ads for unhealthy foods and beverages on children’s websites. The study evaluated banner ads and other display web advertising on sites that are popular with children – sites like Nick.com and CartoonNetwork.com. It’s the first study that looks closely at food advertising on the web that’s specifically aimed at children.

Rudd Center researchers used syndicated Internet usage data from comScore to identify popular children’s websites and the food advertisements viewed on those web sites from July 2009 through June 2010. Food ads were classified by category and the companies’ participation in the food industry’s self-regulatory program, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). Researchers also evaluated the nutritional quality of the advertised products. Most large food companies are a part of the CFBAI and have pledged to promote only healthier food choices in advertising targeted to children. Web advertising is included in that pledge.

Researchers found that 3.4 billion display advertisements for food and beverages were viewed on popular children’s websites annually. More than one-half of these ads appeared on just two Viacom sites: Nick.com and NeoPets.com. Children who visited NeoPets.com viewed on average 30 food ads per month. Food Manufacturers who are a part of the CFBAI placed 89% of the food advertisements on children’s websites.

Three-quarters of the advertisements promoted brands that food companies participating in CFBAI identified as healthier dietary choices for child-directed advertising, yet the products in 84% of those ads had high levels of fat, sugar, and/or sodium. Almost two-thirds of food ads were for sugary breakfast cereals and fast food. Researchers noted that advertised foods that were designated by CFBAI companies as healthier dietary choices appropriate for child-directed advertising were less likely to meet nutrition standards proposed by the government than other foods advertised to children.

To address limitations of the CFBAI, the U.S. Congress commissioned an Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG) with representatives from four government agencies to develop more effective guidelines for responsible food marketing to children. The authors assert that stronger nutrition standards are required for foods marketed to children, such as those proposed by the IWG, to meaningfully improve the nutritional quality of food and beverage advertising on children’s web sites.

There have been previous studies conducted in regards to food advertising on television that’s targeted to children. Those studies have shown that the self-regulatory concept of the CFBAI haven’t changed much on TV in terms of the nutritional quality of the foods marketed to kids. This study demonstrates that CFBAI pledges aren’t protecting children from web advertising of nutritionally poor foods. While the content of websites like Nick.com and CartoonNetwork.com are safe and engaging for children, over one-third of the food advertising that kids are seeing constantly on those sites are for foods that contain high levels of sugar, fat or sodium.

FoodFacts.com knows that any parent who has taken a child to a grocery store understands how much food advertising affects our kids. If it looked cool and fun on TV or on the internet, kids beg their parents to purchase the product. The point is that healthy foods can also be cool and fun and manufacturers can be more responsible about the products to which they are exposing our children. While we certainly understand that content is king for any website, when it comes to websites for children, adults need to consider more than the safety of the content their children are engaging with. When it comes to giving our children the healthiest start in life, ads count too. Let’s all practice viewing media choices for children through the lens of nutritional awareness!

http://news.yale.edu/2013/07/08/foods-advertised-popular-childrens-websites-do-not-meet-nutrition-standards