All kid-targeted food marketing is harmful
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
You’ve probably heard this one: “Marketing tricks work to get kids to eat junk food, so let’s use them to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables!”
Some well-intentioned groups and individuals have jumped on that bandwagon—including Michelle Obama, who supported a campaign to use Sesame Street characters to encourage kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. A 2016 Cornell University study said decorating school salad bars with colorful banners and showing an enticing program on a TV monitor increased the number of students taking vegetables. News reports gobbled up the report as evidence that these tactics work, even though the study didn’t establish that the students actually ate more salads or address long-term impact—and they ignored the harmful impact marketing has on children. Reporters also overlooked the fact that the study came from Cornell’s “Food and Brand Lab,” which receives funding from industry trade groups and proclaims a mission to “invent healthy eating solutions for consumers, companies, and communities.”
John Scherer is one of the food and nutrition commentators enthusiastic about tricking kids into eating their veggies. He wrote in Los Angeles Magazine:
You know why food companies spend so much money on advertising to kids, and so much money to protect their rights to do so? Because it works. Because kids are idiots and their brains aren’t fully formed enough to be able to control their emotions and understand consequences. Kids are stupid little manipulatable monsters who can manipulate their parents into buying things so they’ll stop throwing a public tantrum in the middle of a Ralph’s snack aisle, and that fact is preyed upon heavily by marketing executives in suits peddling artificially colored poison.
Sadly, Scherer is on board for more manipulating:
Fight fire with fire. For every co-branded piece of high-fructose corn syrup-laden trash put out there, why not slap a picture of BB-8 on a package of carrots and trick kids into thinking that their favorite movie robot is going to hate them if they don’t eat their vegetables? Turn all that negative manipulation into positive manipulation. Disney can even rebrand it to FUN-ipulation or IMAGIN-ipulation and really lean into the new marketing strategy.
“When those Iron Man bananas finally hit shelves,” Scherer said, “I won’t be able to throw my money at them fast enough. And so should you.”
No, thanks. At CCFC, we’re not buying those carrots, and we’re not buying the idea that companies should ever manipulate children. We get that Scherer is being deliberately provocative, but kids are not “stupid manipulatable monsters.” They just happen to be developmentally vulnerable to advertising, and as adults, it’s our job to protect children, not exploit their vulnerabilities.