Forbidden Fruit & Kids’ Food Advertising: FTC & KFF Compare

kiwi.jpgOk. Two things here. First off, I agree that making junk food “forbidden fruit” will only serve to increase the coolness caché in terms of marketing strategy, and second, the media spin on the new FTC findings on kids’ exposure to food advertising really just reveals a methodology glitch in age breakdowns. Let’s just segue to advergames if you don’t see food ads as prominent. (FTC’s doing a follow up study on this separately)

Kaiser Family Foundation has a helpful side by side analysis of the recent FTC food study juxtaposed with their own, and quite frankly, the results are negligible. Both are worthy quantitative and qualitative data analysis, and I fail to see any huge disparity.

We all know kids ARE being hammered with food ads pervasively, and that it’s a combo-platter of media and marketing mixed with sedentary lifestyles, access issues, neighborhood safety, after-school care programs and the whole fitness fandango too. So to paint the two studies as ‘conflicting’ is only industry-speak from vested interests, or media trying to stir the controversy pot and sell papers.

BOTH research studies are worthy and notable; but be sure to deconstruct. (as this S.D. Union article clearly notes, “there’s a catch” in the FTC headline news) It pays to spot the spin when it comes to ALL sides of the childhood obesity debate (from activism to advertising) especially when positioning statistics.

To follow up on OUR own studies of some VERY different demographics at Shaping Youth this round (our recent “Shrek Drek” counter-marketing of junk food to kids) we had a HUGE range in age (wee little 2nd graders; through grade 5) and very little socioeconomic diversity (except kids ‘bussed in’ to this affluent elementary). ALL had seen the movie Shrek3, in the first session, and most in the second and third…

But the majority of this upscale slice of San Mateo pie revealed that these kids were all familiar with ‘Shrek Drek’ but were less enticed by junk food, even preferring to hear about healthier ‘smarter’ fare!

They not only LIKED the “Very Green” (Trader Joe’s) algae based, wheat grass/barley blend dark green smoothie concoction we ‘dared’ them to try…Some had TRIED it already, AND could easily discern the pesto in our “Shrek Smart Swamp seaweed” of linguine pasta w/chives and whole wheat durum flour.

They were nonplussed when we got to the ‘wasabi rice crackers’ of our green “Fear Factor Foods” in Shaping Youth’s Dare to Compare: A Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition saying, “Oh, gosh, I eat sushi all the time, no problem, I’ll try that!”

Hmn. Just goes to show you how much the demographic and psychographic kicks into the mix of marketing exposure…

Interestingly enough, even though most kids ‘tried it,’ the Hispanic kids were the only ones to snarf the spicy green avocado-tomatillo verde sauce with ZERO prob, coming back for more!

Of course I’m dying to ‘try out’ this Shrek Drek counter-marketing on our ‘junk food junkies’ at the Title One school in San Bruno…particularly since the kids in this session ALL loved the green CILANTRO dipping sauces for veggies and were brazen and bold challenging their tastebuds! I just KNOW the kids in our “living lab” would like the wasabi too…Point?

Methodology matters, so does age, demographics, culture, psychographics and regional access to unusual cuisine.

The “Bland Palate” that major food chains accommodate towards via “kids meals” is a fallacy at best, (mac-n-cheese, corn dogs, chicken nuggets, and other “formula food”) for kids WILL eat and try new things when ‘marketed’ with the same enthusiasm.

Instead of kids’ menus offering french fries, needless sat fat and nitrates fed to kids from the get go, we should be priming their palate early on to like the ‘good stuff’! (you should’ve seen these kids chow down on the “Smart swamp” table of green offerings, from cucumbers and grapes to fresh spinach and sweet potato Terra chips in our “dare to compare” game!

As for ‘user-generated content’ we had some ‘melt in your mouth astronaut food’ (freeze-dried apples, pears and such) and the kids kept commenting that if fruit like that was marketed in that manner instead of as ‘healthy food’ they’d probably ‘sell’ to kids better. (hear that food marketers?) Hmn. I still say we have to find a way to make healthy smart and ‘cool,’ from a peer influencer ‘in the know’ standpoint. (these kids clearly ‘get it’)

They also came up with fun ideas for ‘Shrek green’ healthier spins…(tennis balls, swamp slime bath wash, etc.) and it was clear to me from these budding entrepreneurs that it’s the FUN that resonates, not necessarily the item itself.

We’ll be exploring recipes further teaming with experts at Expatriate’s Kitchen and Balanced Health & Nutrition for new ideas to tantalize their little tastebuds…and probably add more ‘user-generated content’ to get kids thinking about media literacy, product claims and ‘why to buys’ on enticing packaging.

As for the forbidden fruit positioning of junk food? “Just DON’T do it!”

I’ve lived through the ‘TV will rot your brain’ modality of parenting mistakes, and assure you it’s now her first default option when my tween wants some downtime. (ditto demonizing junk food, though thankfully I learned my lesson from the TV positioning there, whew!)

Think centrist…Moderation. No extremes. Cupcakes? Cool. Bleary-eyed from Disney Channel & Nickelodeon? Let ‘em have at it now & then so they get bored and burned out themselves. Otherwise you’re in for a nightmare of counter-marketing your OWN words and eating crow ad infinitum in order to gain a balance in the battle for kids’ mindshare.

Even in our counter-marketing session they tasted those ‘turn your tongue green’ Shrek “Baked Cheetos” which sold out in stores in a heartbeat.

Then, of course, we dissected the notion of putting coloring and additives and mystery ingredients into our bodies.

I still think the Powerade blue and Windex bottle is my best visual aid to teach kids they need to KNOW what they’re putting in their bodies with label literacy! When our dvd comes out, you’ll see for yourself…better yet, try it with your own kids at home, or send other good ones that ‘worked’ our way.

Stay tuned for more, as we counter-market some of the new energy beverages being launched and take on the caffeine ‘machine’ to deconstruct some of the offerings kids are gulping by the gallons…That 7-11 ‘fusion energy drink coffee‘ concoction is about the wildest one I’ve seen in awhile.

Well, maybe the caffeinated Slurpees…Yowza. Sigh. This blogger, Energy Fiend can give you the lowdown, or visit SlashFood while we’re blog-backlogged. (I still have my ‘think pink drinks’ in the hopper with our “Packaging Girlhood” advisors looking for an op-ed home…ping me if you have a good one!)

Meanwhile, here’s more on the KFF & FTC studies regarding kids’ food ads:

KFF’s newsletter below, explains their side by side comparison with the FTC study mentioned at the onset of this piece…I’m providing it for context, and have included links to each of the full studies so you can see for yourself rather than rely on media spin. (they have ‘summary’ studies on their sites too, but these are the whoppers to peruse)

“In light of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) new report, Children’s Exposure to TV Advertising in 1977 and 2004: Information for the Child Obesity Debate, we’ve received requests about how this research compares to our (KFF) report, Food For Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States, released on March 28, 2007.

Overall the findings have many similarities, so to help understand the differences and similarities we’ve prepared a brief side-by-side that looks at some of the relevant key findings of both reports.”

(The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation dedicated to providing information and analysis on health care issues to policymakers, the media, the health care community and the general public. The Foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.)



  1. I think marketing methods are the only ways to reach our kids now adays. They’ve been so polluted with commercialist propaganda that they only listen to what comes out of the box. And if they did not hear or see it come out of the box then it simply does not exist.

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