Category Archives: food advertising

Just because it says it’s healthy, doesn’t mean it is .

iStock_000003492931SmallPretty simple concept, isn’t it? Or at least it should be. But food marketers are well aware that minds can be swayed in a particular direction with the use of some very simple language.

Health-related buzzwords, such as “antioxidant,” “gluten-free” and “whole grain,” lull consumers into thinking packaged food products labeled with those words are healthier than they actually are, according to a new research study conducted by scholars at the University of Houston (UH).

That “false sense of health,” as well as a failure to understand the information presented in nutrition facts panels on packaged food, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States, said Temple Northup, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at UH.

“Saying Cherry 7-Up contains antioxidants is misleading. Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they’re not,” said Northup, principal investigator of the study, “Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health.”

The study examined the degree to which consumers link marketing terms on food packaging with good health. It found that consumers tend to view food products labeled with health-related euphemisms as healthier than those without them. The research also showed that the nutrition facts panels printed on food packaging as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do little to counteract that buzzword marketing.

“Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit,” Northup said. “When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up — it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”

The study also looks at the “priming” psychology behind the words to explain why certain words prompt consumers to assign a health benefit to a food product with unhealthy ingredients.

“For example, if I gave you the word ‘doctor,’ not only ‘doctor’ would be accessible in your mind — now all these other things would be accessible in your mind — ‘nurse,’ ‘stethoscope,’ etc.,” Northup said. “What happens when these words become accessible, they tend to influence or bias your frame of mind and how you evaluate something.”

This triggered concept is then available to influence later thoughts and behaviors, often without explicit awareness of this influence — the so-called priming effect, Northup said.

Northup developed an experiment using priming theory to gather quantitative research on how food marketers influence consumers. He developed an online survey that randomly showed images of food products that either included actual marketing words, like organic, or a Photoshop image removing any traces of those words, thereby creating two different images of the same product. A total of 318 study participants took the survey to rate how “healthy” each product was.

The products with trigger words in their labels analyzed in the study were: Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks (Organic), Apple Sauce (Organic), Chef Boyardee Beefaroni (Whole Grain), Chef Boyardee Lasagna (Whole Grain), Chocolate Cheerios (Heart Healthy), Cherry 7-Up (Antioxidant), Smuckers Peanut Butter (All Natural) and Tostitos (All Natural).

Northup found when participants were shown the front of food packaging that included one of those trigger words, they would rate the items as healthier.

“I took a label from Cherry 7-Up Antioxidant and Photoshop it without the word ‘antioxidant’ and only the words, ‘Cherry 7-Up.’ I then asked people via the online survey which one they thought was healthier,” said Northup. “Each time a participant saw one of the triggering words on a label, they would identify it as healthier than the other image without the word. ”

After completing the product evaluations, the study participants then reviewed the nutrition facts panels on a variety of products. These labels would be presented two at a time so the participants could choose the healthier food or drink option.

“Food marketers say there are nutritional labels, so people can find out what’s healthy and what’s not,” he said. “Findings from this research study indicate people aren’t very good at reading nutritional labels even in situations where they are choosing between salmon and Spam. Approximately 20 percent picked Spam as the healthier option over salmon,” said Northup.

Northup hopes the results of this study will contribute to an increased dialogue on how food is marketed, guide development of specific media literacy and help people understand the effects of how food is marketed to consumers.

While we like to think of ourselves as sophisticated consumers (and just about everyone these days considers themselves as such), the proliferation of those small , yet powerful words on food labels everywhere — even where they don’t make sense — speaks directly to their actual influence. Antioxidant soda? Whole grain canned macaroni? Can those words actually manage to make an unhealthy product full of bad ingredients healthy? We know they can’t and yet, somehow, time after time, consumers are fooled. Armed with the insight as to why this manufacturers ploy continues to work, FoodFacts.com suggests we all think a little harder the next time we’re attracted to a product label bearing an extra descriptive word or two.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613130717.htm

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

Lawsuits being brought against food manufacturers for product misrepresentation

FoodFacts.com has long held the opinion that many of the products on our grocery store shelves are labeled in a misleading fashion, and don’t actually give consumers a clear representation of the products held in their boxes, cans and bags. Our community has always agreed with us. And it does appear that a controversy may be brewing over this practice.

Information has come to light that the same lawyers who brought millions of dollars in lawsuits against big tobacco companies (and won tremendous settlements form the likes of R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris) have been busy filing 25 new cases against food manufacturers, including ConAgra Foods, Heinz, General Mills and PepsiCo. These suits have been filed over the last four months and are claiming that these food manufacturers are mislabeling products and ingredients. Currently there are also lawsuits regarding Pam cooking spray, Swiss Miss cocoa products and some Hunt’s canned tomatoes.

While the food manufacturers are claiming that these are frivolous lawsuits and are strictly financially motivated, the lawyers are claiming that these cases could result in a cost of billions of dollars to the food companies.

For example, two mothers have brought a lawsuit against the makers of Nutella, claiming they were deceived into believing that the chocolate hazelnut spread was healthy for their kids. A similar suit was brought against PepsiCo three years ago accusing them of false advertising for Cap ‘n Crunch Crunch Berries cereal because it does not contain actual berries. The court felt that a “reasonable consumer would not be deceived into believing that the product contained a berry that does not exist.” But is that really an analogous case? Of course, there are no such things as “crunch berries,” but Nutella certainly advertises itself as a healthy product that moms can feel good about serving their families. As a note, the product does not rate well on the FoodFacts.com website for a number of reasons.

In addition to the lawyers who filed suit against Big Tobacco, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has also filed suits against General Mills and McNeil Nutritionals over claims they make on Nature Valley and Splenda Essentials products. Both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are faced with many suits regarding the 100% natural claims on many of their products, as well.

The focus seems to be – as we would have suspected – on products that make claims of “natural” or “Healthy.” These claims, often, seem to be subjective. And since these products aren’t subjected to the same federal standards as organics, the claims really do reflect the purposes of the food manufacturer and not the nutrition labels or the ingredient lists.

With obesity at epidemic levels in this country, and food additives being linked every day to increasing health problems, FoodFacts.com wonders whether or not this will go the way of the old tobacco lawsuits. Initially, the courts declared smoking a personal choice that consumers make, hopefully understanding the health risks they are inflicting on themselves. It wasn’t until the tobacco companies were sued on behalf of states on the basis of the hundreds of millions of dollars caring for sick smokers that the settlements were won by the lawyers.

It does appear that this is a new trend that is just beginning to emerge. It’s a trend that may cost offending food manufacturers a tremendous amount of money and cause them to actually pull products from the shelves, until they rebrand, rename or redevelop many of their products so that they accurately depict nutritional value and ingredients used.
FoodFacts.com thinks that this is a trend worth watching and we’ll be keeping you informed as we discover more about what companies are being sued and why. In the meantime, here are two links for you to read and discover more about what’s happening: http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20120819/NEWS0107/208190394/ and http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/business/lawyers-of-big-tobacco-lawsuits-take-aim-at-food-industry.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&smid=tw-share

Labeling Tricks

food-advertising
Foodfacts.com came across an article featured on Food Network which discusses how to avoid food labeling tricks which are used to make some foods appear healthier. Check it out below! Have any advice of your own to share?

Food labels are carefully worded to entice shoppers to choose certain items. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found dieters often fall for simple labeling tricks that make them believe certain foods are healthier than they are. Find out the top 5 traps people fell into and how to avoid them.

#1: Fruit Chew vs. Candy Chew
The same food labeled with the word “fruit” verses “candy” had dieters opting for the fruit-labeled boxes with identical chews inside. If it doesn’t contain real fruit, it’s probably the same product with different flavoring. Check the ingredients before you buy!

#2: Pasta vs. Salads

Diners watching their calories often jump to the salad section over pasta, since that seems like the healthier choice. But not always: Toppings like avocado, cheese, beans, croutons, fried chicken or too much dressing drive salad calories sky-high (that’s why they made our top 9 “healthy” foods to skip). Ask the server how the salad is prepared, and if any of the toppings or dressings are optional. Get our tips for swapping out high-cal salad toppings >>

#3: Flavored Water vs. Juice
Find yourself grabbing the “flavored” water because it seems like the healthier choice? That’s what the Journal of Consumer research study found their subjects did. Water seems harmless, but many varieties are nothing more than sugar water. If sugar isn’t added, then oftentimes artificial sweeteners are. A glass of freshly squeezed juice may contain natural sugar called fructose, but also a variety of vitamins and minerals. If in doubt, real, unadulterated water is always a great choice.

#4: Veggie Chips vs. Potato Chips
Think veggie chips are healthier than potato chips? Think again: Aren’t potatoes vegetables?!? Any vegetable fried and made to look like a chip can be labeled a veggie chip, so don’t fall for that labeling trick! If you want chips (whether veggie or potato), be sure to stick to a reasonable portion (about 15 chips).

#5: Smoothies vs. Milkshakes

Milkshakes are loaded with fat and calories, but slap on a label that says “smoothie” and dieters feel they’ve made a healthier decision. Be sure to inquire about the ingredients that go into that smoothie, and keep the portion size reasonable. Get our tips for a healthier smoothie >>

Bottom Line: Don’t fall into the naming trap — if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Do some investigating by reading food label ingredient lists and nutrition facts. If you’re dining out, don’t be shy! Ask the wait staff about menu items.

(Food Network- Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN)