Food Advertising to Kids - US Consumers Divided

22 August 2007

NEW YORK: Is self-policing by food marketers whose ads target kids a good thing? US consumers are apparently divided in their views, according to a new study released Tuesday by Nielsen BuzzMetrics.

Using an unusual technique of sampling comments on blogs, message boards and other forms of consumer-generated media, NBM dissected one hundred such messages chosen at random.

This small scale research probably wasn't intended to supply definitive answers and must therefore be taken with several pinches of salt. Unsurprisingly, the study's findings were ambivalent.

Thirty-one percent of the comments expressed positive attitudes toward the self-policing of ads; 25% were negative and the rest were either unsure, mixed or had no opinion.

Those with adverse views tended to think the companies were acting out of self-interest or fear of lawsuits.

Comments NBM vp-marketing Max Kalehoff: "There's mixed sentiment around the issue. This presents a critical juncture for marketers because consumers are just beginning to make up their minds."

In July eleven of America's largest food and drink companies (Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Mars, McDonald's, PepsiCo and Unilever) undertook to limit advertising to children below the age of eleven.

This onrush of responsibility was triggered in April by the Federal Trade Commission, which said it intended to subpoena forty-four food and beverage companies for detailed information on how they market to children. Despite their subsequent voluntary action, the companies must comply by November 1.

With a fervor that would not disgrace a televangelist, McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker asked that the company be judged by its deeds.

"We look forward to shining a light on our actions. McDonald's should be judged in our actions, not perception," declaimed Riker.

"That's the key when it comes to the marketing issue. When you break through the preconceived notions and look at what we've actually been doing, it's a completely different story."

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff