Snack Attack: Counter-Marketing Using Shaping Youth’s “THREEP”

snack-sport21.jpgFor all those parents who have winced, cringed, nagged and cajoled to stop training kids like Pavlov’s dogs to salivate at sports whistles and expect a snack at every game, here’s a round-up of handy hints to rein in the junk food snack pack syndrome.

If you’re pulling out your hair watching kids play a healthy sport while tanking up their bodies with poisons (chips before a game, Chips Ahoy after) then you need to put “THREEP” to work.

THREEP is my ‘secret decoder ring’ counter-marketing strategy that I use with parents AND kids all the time. It’s come in useful as ‘shorthand’ when we hear a negative peer comment linking to media behavior, (fashion, food, stereotypes, whatever) because I can direct a volunteer by locking eyes, say “THREEP IT” and know it’ll be handled.

THREEP stands for “Three Ps”—precedent, persuasiveness, and peer perpetuation.

In any counter-marketing effort, you have to tap into the power base to see where the motivation is coming from, build awareness, and flip the allure to position your message persuasively in a positive way.

Habits form early, so intervention is key. Whatever gets established as ‘acceptable’ at the onset usually develops into a pattern unless the cycle is disrupted.

“Team snack” is an easy example. Fresh fruit is sold by the case at Costco a mere aisle away from those Oreos & Goldfish, so the premise that unhealthy choices are coming from ‘convenience’ alone is hooey. Nor is it all about media and marketing cueing kids to what’s ‘cool.’ Look deeper.

At the very root of the behavioral pattern is an emotional triggerpoint: the need for acceptance. Complicity gets multi-leveled here, because “people-pleasing” and popularity factors tug at common sense.

I’ve seen parents that can spout glycemic index label lingo still defer to cases of cartoon crud that have danced on TV just to make sure junior isn’t an ‘outcast’ for having the token parent with the “healthy choice.”

Ideally, these parents would get a spine, but knowing how deeply rooted the ‘need to be liked’ is dating back to psychology 101, it’s much easier to counter-market the madness and springload the trigger point to fling back in the face with an obvious solution…

Level the playing field. Use Precedent. Perusasion. Peer perpetuation.

If coaches are non-plussed as pouches of high fructose corn syrup and sat fat sodium slop are passed out among the team negating every ounce of healthy energy expended, it’s no surprise that parents blindly buy over-processed pouches of drek that kids have whined for based on media and marketing or peer influence.

Why? Acceptability becomes established as precedent.

Shaping Youth is all about “cycle-breaking,” dedicated to reversing lousy messaging using the same techniques and tactics that instilled the behavior and pushed those ‘hot buttons’ to begin with…

We take what gets ‘established’ in kids’ media culture and flip it on its ear!

Here’s how ThreeP works seamlessly within the ‘team snack’ context:

ThreeP removes socio-economic underpinnings (like those parents that turn a ‘snack’ into a catering event with affluenza in ‘can you top this’ mode)

ThreeP precedent and perpetuation removes the emotional fuel (so that peer pressure reverses…any bozo that deviates into the junk food realm gets the sideways glance instead)

ThreeP puts healthy messaging in a hero context, which is critical for sustainability.

After all, kids respond to that coolness currency…To get it, go for the athlete training table correlation… Simply demo and model the truth! There’s no freakin’ way those celebrity ‘pitch pythons’ could be eating all that junk food and soda and achieve their level of fitness.

Reinforce the positive, counter-market the negative.

That’s our Shaping Youth media mantra!

As for specific tips on putting ThreeP to work for you, here are some easy guidelines, examples of resources, and healthy snack alternatives to counter-act any reverb from the get-go.

#1 Shaping Youth THREEP: Precedent…

  1. Decide if there will even BE a ‘snack’!! (games right before dinner make this a common sense option) Here’s a hilarious story called “Snack Insanity” from The Imperfect Parent that reveals the absurdity of what happens when cycle-breakers come onto the scene.
  2. Establish precedent early on via coaches, parents, or district-wide policy. It’s the quickest way to defuse the dynamic by taking decisions out of the hands of the weak, and making it a fait accompli.
  3. If you’re targeting massive scale change, here’s a simple letter template in a piece called “Bring Back the Oranges, Please” to get the ball rolling. This letter from the pbs crew at Meal Makeover Moms sparked a positive dialogue between parents and volunteer coaches, resulting in a “Fruit & Water Only” snack policy for 2,000 kids participating in their town’s recreation department and soccer club. That’s a huge impact for one letter! Way to go gang!
  4. You can initiate policy for entire orgs, (AYSO, YMCA, schools, club teams) zero in on regional enclaves, (by county, state, or locale) or loosely configure precedent for individual teams themselves.
  5. No matter what you decide, set your precedent early on, then stick with the game plan.
  6. Shaping Youth is even pursuing partnerships with some viable organic orgs to create and market some healthier choices for team snack pack grab-n-go convenience. We’re nonprofit, but we see the social entrepreneur model as key to our long term stability, so stay tuned…we’re exploring all kinds of creative pairings within our counter-marketing programs.

#2 Shaping Youth THREEP: Persuasiveness…

Persuasion isn’t hard to shift parents onto a healthy track, once you defuse the ‘popularity’ issue and offer common sense suggestions for follow through.

Health and well-being ammo shouldn’t be necessary, though parents sometimes get sucked in by ‘healthy’ misinformation as much as kids do.

There are sites out the wazoo to deconstruct the dietary misinformation being marketed as ‘healthy,’ it’s just a matter of staying alert to it. The American Dietetic Association has great nutritional links to deconstruct all those fad food trends and diets too.

Shaping Youth is ‘on it’ being inside the advertising industry, so our goal is to “red flag” you to what’s coming down the pike before it even hits.

Parents sometimes need a nudge if they’re creatively challenged. Give ‘em some help with scads of A-Z snack ideas to counter-market the notion that they ‘can’t find’ anything to snag for ‘snack’ that’s healthy.

You can also download the entire USDA After School Care Snack Program Handbook which details all the ‘shoulds-n-whys’ and even has recipes and activities. It’s on this ‘one-stop’ DOE site which has a nice round-up of all kinds of nutritional links and data.

There are TONS of healthy snack resources, including the USDA’s own “healthy meals resource system” (HMRS) which no one knows about because it’s buried in a ridiculously arcane acronym.

Check out their site! You’ll be surprised at all the helpful info and freebies avail to promote kids’ nutrition! Alas, the government doesn’t have the foggiest clue how to use media and marketing so people can actually USE their resources even if they FIND them. sigh.

#3 Shaping Youth THREEP: Peer Perpetuation…

Last but not least, our ThreeP counter-marketing hinges on sustainability of the messages being put out there…And that means peer perpetuation.

Think of it as ‘peer pressure’ used in a positive way. We all know if one child or adult defaults, everyone backslides like lemmings. It’s that ‘need to be liked and accepted’ bit again.

Don’t go there. Hold your ground.

Our counter-marketing sessions have proven that consistency is integral to overall performance and embedding behavioral change. Nowhere is this more important than athletics and team sports.

Cave to peer pressure, and you’re toast. Besides, what are you teaching your kids about holding healthy boundaries?

Fergawdsakes, have some backbone and be the hero by offering nutritious nibbles that are cooler than cool. Dump an ice cream cone full of fruit chunks. Drizzle fruit with a tsp. of honey, or a sprinkle of crushed cereal.

Do the whole “A-Z” snack list just as you’d find A-Z info on kids’ health.

It’s not that hard, folks. One Google and you’ll find a bounty of these “a is for apples, apricots, animal crackers…z is for zesty” snack style options. You get the drift.

Whether you go the A-Z route or the THREEP counter-marketing concept, there’s enough out there to safely say the snack scenario is in your own hands.

Be a good existentialist and own up. The choices are yours.



  1. This is brilliant and ties directly to the mission of a project I’m managing with ten oregon teens to make a national difference on kids helping kids make smart choices in foods and lifestyle. Please look at their blog – how can the teens be the subject of one of your commentaries? Your are so spot on!! They read this blog and we like – how can we talk to her? So it is my job to help them learn to network and reach out.

  2. Judy, this is great, I just checked their site and would LOVE to feature these kids! Let’s do an interview on Skype with them? I’m a bit backlogged with a grant this week, but am anxious to hear more about what they’re up to! Meanwhile, the rest of you check out these teen inspirations at:

  3. Hi. I’m pretty sure that you don’t have time to mess around with being tagged. I did want you to know that I posted you on my blog because I think this blog is great. It is right on in regards to kids and life these days. As a SAHM I am always on the lookout for ideas and ways to better empower my kids about these specific things. Thanks.

  4. I have been a team parent for years, from soccer to cheerleading to wrestling and I would like to show you something that might help your team with organizing volunteers, fundraising events and parties.

    It’s a FREE program that can help organize volunteers and events. I think it would be perfect for any volunteer coordinators, team moms, and teachers as well as class moms organize fundraising events.

    I am the team mom for my daughter’s cheerleading team and I used it for our 4th of July parade signups and it worked so well, getting more volunteers than we have ever had. It really makes it so much easier than calling and emailing parents individually. I’m going to start using it for all of our events like car washes and parties and stuff.

    My kid’s school is going to start using it because it has been so difficult for the class moms to get volunteers. Its free so I don’t get anything out of it, just thought I’d pass the info along.

    Please take a look and let me know what you think.

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