Digital Marketing Tactics Revealed to FTC: Report At

chestercheetah.gifQuite a coup for consumer and health advocate groups today who released the power of media and marketing to depants digital advertisers who are undermining parents by flying under their radar. Woohoo! This is gonna be fun.

If I sound juvenile, it’s because I can barely contain my glee…Nothing like a one-two counter-marketing punch to start the day, complete with a show-n-tell website!

In a 98-page comprehensive report delivered to the Federal Trade Commission today, co-authors Jeff Chester of the CDD (Center for Digital Democracy) and Professor Kathryn Montgomery of American University launched an advertising ambush with timely precision using the media to lay the groundwork. (8-pg. summary here)

Right on the heels of this week’s CBSNews series giving mass media exposure to the marketing tactics aimed at kids, they pretty much plopped all the evidence on the desk of the FTC calling on the agency to expand its investigation of food and beverage marketing well beyond TV into the digital realm.

This powerhouse team of whip-smart strategists (responsible for the research that led to the passage of COPPA) used DIGITAL methods to diss digital tactics, by launching a website housing all the multi-cultural targeting evidence, media tactics, examples, clinical obesity and behavioral data in one tidy spot. (The site went live this morning along with their release, because it sure wasn’t there last night!)

Seems they’ve brilliantly pre-empted any stalling, wiggle room or “do a study” response by handing them one right over the transom in “so, what are ya gonna do about it” style.

What an awesome first strike…It’s like thanking the FTC for doing their job by doing it for them, in sort of a “before you say we need a report, here’s your report” maneuver. Inspiring!

Think it’s a ‘co-inky-dink’ they had this report all tied up with a bow on the day the CBS series ended? I sure don’t.

BMSG (Berkeley Media Studies Group commissioned the report) CSPI, Children Now, CDD, and the Public Health Advocacy Institute leveraged media momentum and press coverage to their advantage detailing the use of new media aimed at kids, from virtual world signage and avatars hawking products to advergaming and interactive SMS text codes on cell phones.

There are gaping holes in the way kids’ data collection and new media marketing are being handled, and this report ensures industry comes clean and puts their targeting of tykes on the table.

The consumer groups are calling on the FTC to have companies divulge practices like setting cookies, tags, and other Web 2.0 profiling tools, as well as “psychosocial research,” immersive media, and social-network campaigns (MySpace and such) targeting kids.

The new report will also be delivered today to the Federal Communications Commission and policymakers in Congress. Wow! Looks like folks are getting the hang of using the power of media and marketing for positive change…

Bravo! Encore! Score one for the children!

Use the magic of media to flip the message toward a healthier worldview…

BUT WAIT! Not so fast, folks…

Look closer at articles like this new one in Promo Magazine crowing, “food and beverage marketers now have FTC veteran Elaine Kolish on their side.”

Hmn. Defecting watchdogs? Industry recruitment? That’s enough to make ya howl.

Must we have this divisive cloak-n-dagger ‘us vs. them’ approach instead of simply advocating for public health and children’s emotional and physical well-being? Where’s the common sense there? Where’s the voice of reason from parents in our industry?

We’ll compile and follow up with some industry responses soon, once we take a deeper look and digest all the data.

Here’s an academic gamer viewpoint on advergaming from the Gameology blog, with a fascinating article called Product Placement and Virtual Branding in Videogames. (visual credit for the screenshot used in this piece too)

And btw, I don’t mean to ONLY pick on Cheetos’ Chester the cat—though Cheetos ARE high on my toxicity list in our counter-marketing programs…Kids are not only enthralled with the Cheetos beastie, (and the ‘flamin’ hot’ product, ugh!) they’re a perfect example of heavy digital promotion to kids via “gametoons” and advergames.

Gosh, Cheetos fit our “portion distortion” example, our ‘additives, colorings and chem cuisine’ session, empty calorie snack pack AND high sodium red flags…ALL in one handy counter-marketing pouch!

When kids actually dissect the dang things, it really is ‘ewwww, gross!’ But kids DO love ’em, so it’s a wicked tough counter-sell.

We try the ‘switch pitch’ to give them some slightly healthier alternatives, as well as use our ‘sim city’ simulation of unhealthy outcomes. (that clogged Playdough extruder is always a big hit for heart healthy messaging) They’re slowly getting it…

Now it’s the adults turn to get up to speed: Visit and click through the digital strategies being used to target your kids.

Be mindful. Deconstruct the media messages. Review resources about childhood obesity, IOM data on causal links, roles, and any other media info or pertinent child research.

If you’re African American or Hispanic, you should be particularly inflamed at the bilingual and multi-cultural targeting tactics putting your kids directly in the crosshairs of junk food giants’ scope. You wouldn’t believe some of the hands-on findings we’re collecting in our media/marketing logs at our ‘living lab’ at Allen Elementary.

Finally, policy wise, remember, this is NOT a regulatory mandate it’s an investigation

There’s no “game over” light flashing, folks.

This pinball will be pinging and dinging around cyberspace with new bells and spins for a loooooooooooong time. Meaning? This game has only just begun…



  1. Hi…I found your site via Yahoo! when i was searching for consumer marketing research, and this post regarding Digital Marketing Tactics Revealed to FTC: Report At really sounds very interesting to me.. Thanks.

  2. There’s just a lot of issues about digital ads; suitability to kids etc. I just read an article that “Where the While Things Are” are not actually for kids at all.

  3. Great article, Amy! The link to provides a solid overview of the “marketing eco-system”… and a glance at how pervasive digital media marketing is becoming in our daily lives.

    I’d love to hear more about your living-lab at Allen Elementary as well… definitely bookmarking your blog.

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