Michelle Obama is trying to woo kids to put down the cheeseburger and get moving in her Let's Move healthy kids campaign — even co-opting Beyonce in her anti-obesity campaign's latest effort: a May 3rd "dance-in" in America's public schools.
But the White House wants to put teeth in those efforts by regulating food advertising, yesterday announcing proposed federal guidelines for marketing food to kids. The biggest issue to come out of the "tough new rules," as the Wall Street Journal described them — when does a minor become impressionable by advertising?
The federal Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children wants food and beverage companies to market only foods with low fat, sugar and sodium to American children by 2016, and only products that have some redeeming quality such as the inclusion of whole grains or fruits. Even representatives of the four U.S. regulatory bodies involved admit following these guidelines would mean food and beverage manufacturers would stop promoting many of the items they advertise today.
Another thing rubbing food marketers the wrong way today is that, while the government group called these guidelines “voluntary,” the pressure to comply with them will be enormous. Moreover, many major CPG companies already have drastically overhauled what and how they market to kids as the entire nation fights a childhood-obesity epidemic, with nearly one-third of American kids and teens classifed as overweight (and 17% "obese.")
“Despite calling these proposals ‘voluntary,’ the government clearly is trying to place major pressure on the food, beverage and restaurant industries on what can and cannot be advertised,” Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, complained in a statement.
But what really sticks in the craw of food marketers is that, with these new standards, the federal government wants to make teenagers off limits to a variety of marketing impressions, especially those delivered via social media and via in-school marketing activities. The reigning understanding in the industry has been that teenaged children are fair game for junk-food advertising, but the regulators want to extend some protections to kids as old as 17.
“We believe that treating teenagers as if they were young children in regard to advertising in social media is not appropriate,” Jaffe’s statement said.
The advertisers have a big point. Teenagers can watch strong content on TV and access anything on the internet with the government relying on parents to provide the only filter, but it can’t count on parents to protect kids from Tony the Tiger? Expect a lot of argument over this issue during the 45-day public-comment period before the government group submits its final proposal to Congress.