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Big food companies try to get kid friendly January 26, 2014

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Almost 20 big food companies recently announced that they were adopting a new system that would make it easier to compare food values across products and brands. The group included the Campbell Soup Co., General Mills, Kellogg, Pepsi, Kraft, and many others. The companies also announced that products that couldn’t be in compliance would either be cut or not be advertised to kids. The move follows an effort by the group to cut sugar and other harmful ingredients to make them more kid friendly.

The self-regulation efforts by big food companies has been seen, too, in McDonald’s. The company recently announced that it would not (and has not for the most part) marketed to kids in schools, and even signed an agreement with the Clinton Foundation concerning how it would market soda products with Happy Meals.

For more on efforts to cut back on food products and their ads targeting kids, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why is the food industry engaging in so much self regulation concerning products traditionally targeting kids? What’s at stake if this self regulation does not happen?

2.  Is self regulation enough? Can big food companies prevent federal regulation of products traditionally targeting kids?

3.  Why food ads targeting kids so controversial? Why are they considered unethical by certain critics?


Should cash strapped public schools turn to advertisers? February 23, 2012

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Cash strapped public schools are increasingly opening their campuses to advertisers in order to raise extra revenue. Ads are being placed on lockers, sports fields, books, and buses, leading some media scholars to wonder whether the long-term impact on children outweighs the benefits of raising more money for education. According to reports by consumer advocacy groups, for instance, revenue raised from advertising is hardly more than 1 percent of a school district’s overall budget.

While some are worried about over-exposing kids to ads, defenders of the move are pointing out that children already see ads everywhere and it would be unfair to tie the hands of schools that are already suffering in the midst of major budget cuts. Some school districts, like California’s Sweetwater Union High School District, have solicited ads only after receiving the blessing of parents and establishing “decency criteria” with advertisers. In other words, proponents of the plan suggest that certain checks and balances can be easily built into the system.

For more on this contemporary dispute, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How might public schools benefit from allowing advertisers to target kids on campus?

2.  What are the concerns about allowing advertisers into public schools?

3.  Should public schools turn to advertisers to help address budget shortfalls?

Should fast food ads be banned during kids’ television shows? June 29, 2011

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is lobbying Congress, the FTC, and the FCC to ban junk food and fast food ads during kids’ TV shows and on other media on the grounds that such advertising has led to childhood obesity. Victor Strasburger, MD, on behalf of his colleagues, wrote that TV is a major player in the current obesity epidemic:

“Considerable research has shown that the media contribute to the development of child and adolescent obesity, although the exact mechanism remains unclear. Screen time may displace more active pursuits, advertising of junk food and fast food increases children’s requests for those particular foods and products, snacking increases while watching TV or movies, and late-night screen time may interfere with getting adequate amounts of sleep, which is a known risk factor for obesity.”

While the ads are just one factor among many contributing to obesity, the AAP insists that it is one of the biggest factors of all.

For more on fast food advertising, see the following segment from CBS News. Then, to see the other side of the debate, watch the video featuring Bob Liodice of the Association of National Advertisers.

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why do so many health experts believe that fast food advertising targeting children is unethical?

2.  In your own words, why does Bob Liodice and others in the advertising industry feel that Congressional intervention is unnecessary?

3.  Should such advertising be banned? Why, or why not?

Advertising on kid-friendly networks makes a comeback March 19, 2011

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Kid-friendly networks like Nickelodeon were targeted by human health organizations at the end of the last decade for airing food ads for foods of poor nutritional quality. In fact, a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest discovered in 2009 that 80 percent of the food ads on Nickelodeon fell into this category. Concerned about protecting their public image, many of these networks cut these advertisements and said goodbye to the ad revenue they enjoyed for years.

According to recent numbers, the ad money is back but the products are somewhat different. Ad revenue for kid-friendly networks in 2010 was up by 5%. New strategies are targeting parents versus kids, marketing healthy alternatives instead of the junk once pitched during Saturday morning cartoons.

To see the kind of concerns that led to the reformation, watch the following video about childhood obesity in America:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why do advertisements target children even though parents control the budget? Is this strategy unethical?

2.  What are the implications of these recent revenue figures?

3.  Will this trend continue? Why, or why not?

Fast-food industry on the defensive against accusations of unethical targeting of children November 20, 2010

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San Francisco recently put the ethics of the fast-food industry’s targeting of children back into the public’s concern by banning the Happy Meal. However, the Happy Meal’s ban reflects a larger debate about fast-food companies’ marketing practices. A recent study released by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, for instance, examined the marketing efforts of 12 fast-food chains and discovered that they spent far more money on ads targeting kids ages 6-11 in 2009 than they did in 2007.

Fast-food giants have responded, yet their effectiveness thus far has been limited. McDonald’s for instance responded to the Yale study with the following statement:

McDonald’s remains committed to responsible marketing practices, including advertising and promotional campaigns for our youngest customers. Consistent with our 2006 commitment to the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Food Pledge, 100% of our children’s advertising in the U.S. features dietary choices that fit within the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Burger King, too responded, but with limited effectiveness:

“As part of Burger King Corp.’s ‘Have it your way’ brand promise, we offer a variety of menu options that empower guests to choose items that are best for their lifestyle. In addition, as part of our ‘BK Positive Steps’ corporate-responsibility program, in 2007, [Burger King] pledged to restrict 100% of national advertising aimed at children under 12 to BK Kids Meals that meet stringent nutrition criteria.”

For more on the accusations against the fast-food industry’s practices, see the following video with Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat (2006) and Food Politics (2002):

Discussion Questions:

1.  Please summarize the accusations against the fast-food industry in regards to their advertising to children.

2.  How well has the industry thus far responded to these accusations?

3.  If you were paid to consult the fast-food industry in developing a more effective response to concerns about their advertising practices, what would you recommend?

Is Danny Boyle and company doing enough to help Slumdog kids? May 23, 2009

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Since Slumdog Millionaire’s success in the theaters, the tough lives of the child actors have received some attention in the media. Rubina Ali, who played the young version of Latika, was nearly sold by her father in an undercover sting, and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail’s family home in the slums was recently demolished by the Indian government. Though some people associated with Slumdog have been actively helping the children, the families of those appearing in the film say they feel ignored.

Finally responding to the matter, Slumdog Millionaire’s director, Danny Boyle, and producer Christian Colson set up a trust to make sure the children receive proper homes, an education, and a stipend for their families. While the families are still complaining that this is not enough to move out of the slums, one has to wonder if a public relations crisis is on the horizon.

For more on the story, see the video below:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you think the stories about Slumdog’s children have received significant attention in the media?  If not, why do you think this has been the case?

2.  What might it take for this to be a bigger media drama or scandal?

3.  Is Danny Boyle and the companies associated with Slumdog doing enough?  If not, what else might they do to prevent their names from being tarnished by the media?