Brands walk line of treating kids right

January 02, 2013

Apps and smartphone content targeting kids can be more personal and persuasive than TV commercials. Is this fair in foods?

Heading into 2013, the food industry could use more ethics in food marketing.

High on the list of worthwhile change is the way the industry targets children for foods and beverages, we feel at The Lempert Report. Kids need the most protection because they don’t yet have the critical thinking skills of adults; they may detect some potential downsides in foods pitched to them, or some misleading elements in advertising, but that’s not enough.

Especially not when food marketers distribute content that targets cell phones and tablets—devices so integrated into their lives that kids see it as a natural part of the way they communicate, and therefore find it tough to weigh the merits of each message they receive. At least with TV advertising, the difference between program and commercial is pretty clear, and an adult may well be nearby to help filter what’s seen and heard.  With phones and apps, reception is more personal and potentially more persuasive.

Readers, are kids fair game for food ads on phones? Share your opinion in the comments space below.

The Federal Trade Commission revealed that 48 food companies studied spent less money marketing to kids age 2-17 overall ($1.79 billion in 2009 vs. $2.10 billion in 2006), but more money on new media ($122.5 million in 2009 vs. $76.6 million in 2006), The Wall Street Journal reported.

More recent figures on new-media spend aren’t available, but the upsurge in mobile use seems to add more urgency to the development of responsible guidelines.  These marketing messages are powerful—they affect the next generation in an ever-fatter country that desperately needs to reverse this trend.  True, some foods are being formulated healthier, but there’s still a lot of temptation being pushed to kids.  Better to be straight with them, we think.

Industry executives don’t want their kids and grandkids compromised by being persuaded to eat unwisely.  Why can’t they treat the rest of the nation with the same degree of candor?