The food industry spends upwards of $10 billion annually targeting children. Tried and true methods, such as Happy Meals with toys or cereal with prizes, cartoon and/or movie characters are constantly being promoted. Did you ever notice how little effort is paid towards promoting the actual product/food item? And if the focus is on the food, it is because it has cool shapes or loaded with harmful food coloring to make your kid’s yogurt green.
Children are important to advertisers because they influence their parents’ buying decisions (with incessant whining and tantrums) today while they will be decision makers in the future. Start early and you can turn create a customer for life. These advertisers wouldn’t spend billions of dollars if this wasn’t effective. According the The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation (KFF.org), children up to 17 years of age, see 12-21 TV commercials for food products a day. That’s between roughly 4,500 and 7,500 per year. How can parents compete with that?
I looked at some processed-food packaging in the grocery store this morning in anticipation of writing this article. The first thing you notice when you look at any food product packaging, targeted to children or not, is that the marketing claims and labels are on the front of the package and substantially larger than the actual ingredients, which are never on the front, but on the side, back, or bottom.
Furthermore, with respect to marketing to children, the size of the cartoon character or “brand ambassador”) often takes up the entire front portion of the package, dwarfing any pictures of the actual food product. Let’s also not forget all of the tomfoolery that goes into creating the food pictures. Did you ever notice that your bowl of cereal never looks as good as the one on the box? It’s because they don’t use milk, but glue.
TV advertisements are highly influential for all people, but particularly children. When kids are in the zone watching their favorite cartoon or show, they are likely in the alpha state, which is a highly suggestible brain state, that is typically used in hypnosis to reach a person’s subconscious mind without any gatekeeper. While the responsibility of proper nutrition lies firmly on the shoulders of the parents, these powerful marketing strategies are working against us in a big way, influencing our children against our will.
So if you’re a parent, what can you do? First, shop at healthier locales like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s where the products are cleaner and the marketing to children is toned down as the focus is on the health of the product. Also, consider limiting TV to commercial-free stations or those who have committed to holding advertisers to high standards, given the child audience. You also must instill in your child healthy eating habits. Teach them the importance of fruits and vegetables, and the positive benefits they bring. Make them aware of the shortcomings of processed foods. With some children seeing thousands of food adds a year, you have to start early and repeat often.