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Food Marketing to Children

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Girl pointing remote at TV. Provided by: Microsoft.

Be aware of the food marketing targeted at your child.

But Daddy, I need to have this sparkling star cereal. The princess on the box it is pretty and I saw on television it comes with a glow-in-the-dark ring. Please, Daddy, please!

If you go grocery shopping with children, this has probably happened to you. Children's begging for a food is often a result of food marketing to children.

How is food marketed to children?

Food marketing can take on many forms. Some of the more common forms include catchy jingles and fast paced television commercials, the use of licensed cartoon characters on food packages, spokes-characters such as the Trix Bunny or Captain Crunch, and eye-catching food packages.

Technology is often used in newer marketing efforts.

Child-focused websites often contain banner ads or pop-up ads for food companies. If the child clicks on the ad, they're taken to the food site where they can play advergames, enter contests, or watch videos about the food product.

Advergames combine online games with a food product. For example, a child might play an online game where points are earned by finding the hidden spokes-character. Many food manufacturers are switching to internet advertising: it is less expensive than television advertising and children spend more time playing online games than watching a 15- to 30-second television commercial.

The good news

Food companies are beginning to promote healthier foods.

  • Licensed cartoon characters are sometimes found on fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Some restaurants are promoting that their children's meals come with fruit and milk.
  • One frozen vegetable company recently increased sales through a marketing campaign aimed to get children to eat more vegetables.

What you can do

You can be proactive and limit the exposure of food marketing to children and help older children understand the role of food marketing. Here are four tips:

  1. Limit television viewing and do not allow televisions in a child's bedroom.
  2. If older children are playing online "advergames," explain to them this is advertising.
  3. Before going to the grocery store, make a grocery list and stick to it. Rather than having to say, "No, we can't get that cereal," you can explain, "It is not on the list, so we can't buy it today."
  4. Children over the age of 8 are beginning to understand the concept of advertising. Talk to children about why they might want a product. Is it because they saw it on television? Because it includes a toy? Because of the eye-catching packaging?

Goal for the month

Choose one or more of the following goals to practice this month:

  • The next time you are in the grocery store, look at how food is marketed to children.
  • Develop a plan to avoid children begging for highly marketed foods in the grocery store (see tip #3).
  • Talk to older children about the influence of food marketing.

Please share the examples you see regarding food marketing to children in the comment section.

Are you a professional who works with parents, caregivers, or after-school programs? Then you may be interested in our Targeted Food Marketing to Youth Online Course. This self-paced course starts July 21st and costs only $25!

Revised July 2014 by Hannah Jastram, Communications Associate -- Family Development.

1 Comment

Emily said:

It's crazy how much some of these companies target kids even without advertising. I would venture to guess there is a lot marketing that goes into the design of the packaging in order to appeal to children. Think about all the colors and cartoon cereal character on the typical cereal box.

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