Revealed: Secret tricks to
sell junk food to children
The Scotsman, 11/24/06
- Companies move to less heavily policed internet to
advertise to children
- OFCOM announced plans last week to ban junk-food ads
from children's TV
- Companies claim information is 'out of date, misleading
or plain wrong'
Stung by moves to restrict traditional methods of selling
junk food to children, such as TV advertising, the consumer
group Which? says companies are often turning to the less
heavily policed internet.
Which? has named a dozen major food companies it says are
turning to new "ploys" to target youngsters, often without
parents knowing. And it accused them of delivering "empty
rhetoric" when they claimed to have specific guidelines on
marketing products high in salt, fat and sugar to children.
Last week the Office of Communication (OFCOM) announced
plans to ban the junk- food adverts during children's TV.
But Which? researchers found leading manufacturers were now
using 20 different marketing techniques to promote unhealthy
The most popular methods used the internet, children's
films and the World Cup.
The firms are using websites aimed at children to offer
free branded downloads, online games, competitions or links to
TV adverts for the products. Some products encouraged "viral
marketing", whereby children spread a brand message to each
other by e-mailing cards, cartoons or spoof adverts.
Others appealed to youngsters by offering free toys or
marketing tie-ins with popular Hollywood films. It named
McDonald's and Coca-Cola's World Cup sponsorship as examples
of indirect marketing which effectively reached children.
Other food companies whose marketing is criticised in the
report are Burger King, Cadbury Schweppes, Haribo, Kellogg's,
KFC, Kraft, Masterfoods, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Weetabix.
Nick Stace, the campaigns and communications director at
Which?, said: "Food marketers are treating children as blank
canvases on which to paint their branding; embedding unhealthy
food choices from a very young age and adding to the UK's
rising child obesity problems.
"How can parents be expected to give children a healthy
diet when these sophisticated, underhand techniques are
targeting their children often behind their backs? Most of
their so called responsible marketing policies are simply
He added: "The approach of a number of companies is to go
around the back door to go direct to children. [Parents] can't
necessarily control the messages that their children are
Ian Tokelove, a spokesman for the Food Commission, which
promotes healthy eating, agreed with the principal charge.
"Food and drink manufacturers are increasingly using e-mail,
texting and websites to target children with sophisticated,
interactive advertising. Such one-to-one marketing bypasses
all parental control and exposes young children to highly
effective advertising techniques, often promoting unhealthy
food choices," he said.
Carina Norris, an Edinburgh-based nutritionist, said:
"Children are extremely brand-aware, as much with food as with
anything else. There are proposals to restrict television
advertising, but this report makes it clear the regulators
would be as well to look at other forms of advertising, such
as the internet.
"Children who are invited to join a club on a particular
website may think it's just good fun, but they are still being
subliminally marketed to."
However, Julian Hunt, the director of communications at the
Food and Drink Federation, which represents manufacturers,
accused Which? of failing to work in partnership with the
industry to promote responsible marketing.
"We're seeking to work constructively with NGOs
[non-governmental organisations] and government on all aspects
of marketing to children in the Department of Health's food
and drink advertising and promotion forum. It's disappointing
that rather than work in this spirit of co-operation and
partnership, Which? has decided to generate cheap headlines,"
Several of the companies in the Which? list hit back at the
Kellogg's spokesman, Chris Wermann, insisted the industry
was already voluntarily changing marketing practices, accusing
Which? of using "out of date, misleading or plain wrong"
McDonald's said: "We completely reject the notion that any
of the methods by which we advertise are 'underhand', or that
we market so-called 'junk food' to children." Nestlé said:
"Nestlé is committed to communicating responsibly with all our
consumers, particularly children."
DURING 2006, KFC sponsored Ant & Dec's Saturday Night
Takeaway, which is broadcast on Saturday evening before the
watershed. TV advertisements in 2006 targeted the whole family
with the "KFC family feast" and the "KFC Mum's night off
Another advertisement showed a family gathered around a
"KFC favourites bucket".
The report said KFC gives away free collectible toys with
their children's meals. Promotions during 2006 have included
"Marvin's Magic tricks".
According to Which?, KFC said when the report went to print
that it was ending all its children's toy promotions. KFC told
Which? it has not targeted children with advertising "for a
number of years".
COCA-Cola has a sponsored room for families to stay in, at
Alton Towers theme park.
Its brightly coloured celebration suite at the park's hotel
features streamers and balloons and a "fully stocked fridge of
refreshing, ice-cold Coca-Cola". The brand was a major sponsor
of the World Cup, using web-based videos to advertise
Coke-branded mascots, while its website featured exclusive
Wayne Rooney films to download along with advertisements for
the brand. It also offered children aged 13 to 15 the chance
to be a World Cup flag-bearer.
Coca-Cola claims that for the "past 50 years" its policy
has not been to target under-12s or use celebrities who have a
HARIBO has its own "Planet Haribo" website containing
online games, all of which feature the brand's sweets -
whether it's shooting cola bottles or collecting Gold Bears.
In some cases they contain on-screen adverts for sweets.
Registering on the website helps to improve scores and
children can compete to get stickers, sweets and pens.
For £2.99, children can join the Haribo club and receive
sweets, a soft toy and regular bulletins, including news of
events and competitions. The brand's Pez sweets and dispensers
have featured popular children's characters, most recently
from Chicken Little, Cars, Looney Tunes, Ice Age and Bratz.
Haribo says it takes its responsibilities seriously.
KELLOGG'S has a number of websites aimed at children which
offer visitors free downloads.
These include branded computer screensavers and wallpapers,
as well as cereal-related online games.
The brand has also given away CD-ROMs linked to Art Attack,
the popular children's television programme.
A similar promotion offered Horrible Histories audio books.
Kellogg's relies on cartoon characters - including Tony the
Tiger and Coco the Monkey - to create brand recognition, which
is particularly strong among children.
The company claims that it has a long-standing commitment
to advertising and marketing its products to children in a
A 'KID'S zone' on the McDonald's website offers games,
pictures of cartoon characters to print and colour in,
screensavers, e-cards and competitions. Downloadable
wallpapers in August featured Chicken Little and Ronald
McDonald, while e-cards featured various popular films such as
Cars and Narnia. Promotions included a free Cars storybook, a
limited edition. Cars ice cream dish and a prize draw with the
chance to win PlayStation 2 games.
McDonald's recently renewed its sponsorship of the FIFA
This year in the UK it focused on its player escorts
programme, which takes children to the tournament and saw
1,408 children walk on with players.
CADBURY offers teachers a series of educational resource
packs and fact sheets to help with student projects.
Titles include "Mixing/ Melting and Making" and "The World
According to the Which? report, the Cadbury World website
also features a learning zone where pupils can find
downloadable activities, facts and illustrations.
Over the Easter bank holiday, Longleat Safari Park ran an
"Easter Choc Trail" which Cadbury sponsored. Entrants had to
complete a quiz sheet and all correct answers won a chocolate
Similarly, at Alton Towers theme park, anyone over the
height of 1.4m can go on the popular "Air" ride, sponsored by
AS well as information about the free toys with children's
meals, the Burger King website offers a "Free Zone" where
content changes regularly.
There are " wallpaper" and screensavers to download, games
and a customisable main page. This features a bedroom where
children can change the colour schemes and put their name on
the door. The changes will be saved if they register.
For younger children, there are pictures to print off and
Burger King also uses film tie-ins to promote its
The company is quoted as saying: "It is essential that any
advertising to children must be responsible and adhere to the
strict code of practice on advertising to children."
TV AND cinema adverts promoted the benefits of Dairylea
products in April and May 2006 with the strapline: "Herds of
From August 2006, Kraft's "Get Moovin" initiative included
the chance to win prizes with packs of Dairylea Rippers.
Dairylea Dunkers were promoted to children as a good way to
"refuel after school" in the summer of 2006, and Dairylea
Rippers were advertised in March and April by cartoon cows as
being "rippingly good fun" and also full of calcium. According
to Which? they are also high in saturates and salt. Kraft says
it does not target advertising at pre-school children and
takes "extra precautions when communicating to children up to
NESTLE has a website for Nesquik, Golden Nuggets and Cookie
Crisp. The site has a range of games to encourage children to
spend time on the site.
The final game asks children to look for hidden items
around the site, which also shows advertising messages in the
form of product logos and brand icons.
Another Nesquik website invites interested children to
explore a "themepark" where there are games featuring Quicky
the rabbit, an online sticker album, screensavers, "wallpaper"
and Quicky icons to download.
The company also makes use of viral marketing. Visitors to
the website are invited to leave a secret message for a
friend, requiring both e-mail addresses.
ADVERTISEMENTS during the World Cup featured the football
stars Thierry Henry and David Beckham, while Pepsi's
mydadada.com website offered visitors the chance to win one of
five autographed prints by submitting videos using the
campaign's "da da da" theme as a soundtrack.
Visitors could choose from a selection of prank calls to be
sent to a friend's mobile, see footballers, including Beckham
and Ronaldinho play against lederhosen-clad men, and download
content such as screensavers, ringtones and mobile-phone
According to the report, the company says: "We do not
advertise directly to children under the age of 12 and haven't
done so for several years."
IN June and July, a Skittles "big summer" website offered
the chance to win tickets to see Robbie Williams. Two teams -
boys versus girls - were set various challenges. Visitors to
the website were invited to vote for their favourite team to
enter the prize draw.
The promotion was run in conjunction with teenagers'
magazine Smash Hits.
Sneak magazine, also aimed at teenagers, regularly included
a Starburst promotion called "The Juice".
It featured clothes, beauty products and gig information
and was dubbed as "the most mouth-watering stuff happening
According to the report, the company's stated policy is to
"not advertise to children".
MARCH saw the start of a sponsorship deal between Weetabix
and Channel 5's soap Home and Away.
The campaign showcased the entire range, including products
that are low in sugar, fat and salt, but it initially featured
Weetabix Minis and Weetos, both of which, according to the
report, are high in sugar.
From May, customers could find a free pack of football
stickers in packs of Weetos and send for the sticker album.
Children were encouraged to "keep looking in special packs of
Weetos for your chance to find [your favourite player]".
The Weetabix advertising policy? "Weetabix does not target
children in any advertising and does not sample products to
children directly in any form."
This article: http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1741222006
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