Does Product Placement Affect Kids?

March 03, 2010

The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative in 2006.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative in 2006. The goal was to provide a transparent and accountable self-regulation mechanism for companies that advertise to children. The Initiatives’ aim to shift the mix of messaging directed to children under 12, towards healthier dietary and lifestyle choices, was completely voluntary for participating companies. Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy evaluated the effectiveness of the CBBB’s initiative and general marketing to children and found that between 2006 and 2008, cross-promotions on food packaging targeted at children actually increased by a whopping 78 percent. Perhaps sending a signal that the singular focus on television commercials aimed at our youth is short-sighted.

Cross-promotions are considered the use of third-party licensed characters, as well as tie-ins with other TV shows, movies, athletes, sports teams and events, theme parks, toys, etc. So in the effort to reduce marketing to children, companies actually managed to double the number of products using youth-oriented cross-promotions in just three years. Sixty-five percent of the offending companies were associated with the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. On top of that, and most importantly, only 18 percent of foods examined met accepted nutrition standards!

The authors of the study commented that the “initial focus on industry self-regulation [was] a trial period to ascertain the industry’s true commitment to improve public health. A continued absence of real progress in the marketing environment is likely to reinforce support for more direct interventions, including government regulations to enforce reductions in unhealthy food marketing to youth.”

The results of this initiative are disappointing, and The Lempert Report only can hope that Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, which involves a holistic approach to resolve childhood obesity, will work on addressing this issue as well. The First Lady commented that the task force will, “also lay out concrete benchmarks to measure…success and to hold us all accountable for meeting our goal.” We can only hope.

The CBBB’s main goal of reducing television advertising to children may have been successful, but cross-promotion and children’s exposure to product placement and advertisements through social media and networks, sports, movies, games etc. has definitely filled that void. 

To quote the First Lady, fighting obesity is “about the leadership you show in your schools and in your communities. It's about your work as advocates and educators in your own right. So let's act. Let's move. And let's do everything that we can to give our kids the future that we want for them, and we know they deserve.” 

The Yale study can be found in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition.