Kids’ Food Fight Turns Into Industry DodgeBall Game

fatkid.jpgIn a lame regurgitation of ad industry protectionism today, AdRants once again veers onto the path of mindless myopia toting the party line that “Obesity is not marketers’ fault” in the usual parental blame game that we’ve “got it all backwards.” (No adjacent photo credit, as AdRants didn’t cite one)

AdRants snips that kids aren’t “robots with mouths, injected with food tubes,” concluding food marketing to children is not the problem; responsibility rests only with parents.

I recognize AdRants’ hipster, colloquial schtick wins hands down in entertainment value compared with rock solid reports, a plethora of food findings, and APA psychological data, but industry is obfuscating the truth behind billions of dollars of profiteering aimed smack dab at brainwashing kids into lousy lifelong habits.

If our counter-marketing crew had even a teensy fraction of the food funding firepower and advergaming bucks being lobbed at these kids like grenades, we’d be sitting pretty.

How can such profoundly shallow accountability arguments even warrant digital ink? It’s like Sylvester the cat blinking in wide-eyed innocence as Tweety Bird’s bright yellow feathers are sticking out of his mouth. This is no cartoon comedy, folks. And they don’t call it ‘morbid obesity’ for grins. It’s a multi-tiered issue with contradictions out the wazoo.

Kids are at high risk of dying early, yet industry continues to sweep every crumb and morsel of food marketing culpability back into the laps of parents, citing Small Step ads and CARU regulatory tweaks as evidence they’re helping.

Advertisers are creating a generation of “kids under the influence,” constantly parading unhealthy choices in online food marketing, and offline undermining, while mandating a “just say no” parental attitude that’s unmitigated hogwash.

“The parents make the purchase” stance is blown to smithereens with our counter-marketing field data at Shaping Youth!

Our research in the trenches shows that even if parents buy NO junk food, not a smidge, and even if they EDUCATE, or FORBID it, market demand has already been created, established and perpetuated among peers…

Our “Media: Mind & Body” logs reveal that junk food is being promoted in the media, swapped out at lunch hour, chowed down at friend’s houses, bought with kids’ own money, and getting into their systems whether the parents themselves are buying it or not!

There’s a direct, quantifiable link tracing what goes into kids’ minds and what goes into kids’ bodies. (and yes, there’s also the ‘asleep at the wheel’ factions or those trying to win a popularity poll instead of doing their job as parents)

So c’mon, guys. Own up. Truce. There’s plenty of finger-pointing to go around, from fitness and food marketing to permissive parents that are sucked into the ad spin vortex right along with junior.

Countless studies abound, from the CDC and IOM’s Food Marketing to Children & Youth, to KFF’s First Analysis of Online Food Advertising Targeting Children, to scads of nutritional reports, documentation and resources, proposed policy guidelines and political initiatives (like Senator Harkin’s efforts on junk food ads aimed at kids) and now the Brownback bill…

Yet the ANA is still playing around with superfluous public relations spins, plugging its ears like a petulant three year old chiding, “la-la-la-la-la-la—–I CAN’T HEAR YOU—–la-la-la-la-la!”

Meanwhile, parents are getting a snoot full and sounding off loudly. Note the grassroots international movements of Parents Jury, insightful blog entries like “Why Kids Eat What They Do” and sites like “Nutrition and Well-Being from A-Z” cropping up with special sections on “marketing strategies.”

Parents are becoming media literate about all the food marketing ploys of online gaming and offline merchandising. And polls show parents are statistically predisposed in favor of reining in unethical junk food marketing to preserve kids’ health. Yet what does our industry do?

Rather than intelligently offering debate points on the macro influences of marketing culture, family and community social values, food systems, psychosocial variants and all that jazz, ad industry pros stomp off in a stubbornly irresponsible huff, adhering to a micro-focused, “anyone but me” Teflon treatment.

At least Ad Age bothered to quote the FCC and Sen. Brownback’s call for a joint action plan instead of another “report” but they notably gave it a tiny, miniscule blurb, as if they wished the whole matter would just go away.

It won’t. Parents are ticked. With close to 20% of kids in America overweight, it’s escalated to a global public health and fiscal issue reaching far beyond ethics and “free enterprise.”

You don’t need to be a leading nutrition watchdog like CSPI, a child advocacy org like CCFC, or even a media maven like me to see that the Appetite for Profit is stoking this polluted coal train!

With Shaping Youth’s 400+ media logs, a ton of film footage, and a heckuvalotta “high risk kids” proving media and marketing’s abysmal self-rein, it amazes me to continually hear how industry remains firmly entrenched in denial, dodging any responsibility.

Even industry parents on AdRants nailed the editorializing as folly. By giving marketers a ‘get out of jail free’ card, it will ultimately put the entire industry behind bars.

They’ll end up in full regulatory lock down, and they brought it on themselves.

As for the snarky quips and catty comments blaming parents again and again, I remind myself that this is the industry trading currency, not quantifiable research and evidence on harm to children. After all, these are the same colleagues who deemed this sexist spreadeagle traffic-stopping billboard “brilliant” with zero accountability in ambient messaging exposure to kids.

It’s a waste of breath to debate those who prefers rhetoric over reason. Industry flaks choose to ignore evidence of damage to kids and spew epithets instead.

I forwarded the AdRants monologue to our board, who offered me much needed perspective with the old vaudeville zinger, “In a battle of wits, he’d be unarmed.”



  1. I don’t think the old marketers ARE entirely to blame, but how seriously do they expect to take their cries of “We’re not FORCING anyone to eat the stuff!”.

    Then what is your job, fellas?

  2. Their job is to sell, of course, but they miss the all important piece: It’s a multi-layered conundrum far beyond ‘force’ or fitness. It involves everything from P.E. cutbacks to parenting permissiveness, food access/environmental issues (i.e. lack of safety to play outdoors, proximity of healthy food) psychosocial, community/family values, behavioral modeling from parents, AND of course the 800 pound gorilla they choose to ignore…food marketing directly to kids. It’s duck-n-cover complicity, that constitutes a multi-BILLION dollar dodge.

    I just posted on CSM about this here:
    referring them to a parenting nutritional series using Institute of Medicine data that I really like; on the ‘Expatriate’s Kitchen’ blog here:

    I’m going to post some of our counter-marketing data/outcomes & measures soon too, so AdRants can see how we’re using advertising flipped backwards to ‘market’ healthier food options to kids. I like CSPI’s idea of making it so that only healthy food can be given the ‘cartoon treatment’…THEN we’ll see how impactful food marketing can be! 😉

  3. I don’t think the old marketers ARE entirely to blame.

  4. Their job is to sell, of course, but they miss the all important piece: It’s a multi-layered conundrum far beyond ‘force’ or fitness.

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