campaigns keep kids craving
New Zealand Herald
June 21, 2008
Toucan Sam stands poised at the edge of a tomb flooded
with milk. There are tantalising riches just out of
reach, we imagine. It's really all very Indiana Jones.
The only way our hero _ that's the toucan _ can navigate
the milky pond is to hop from fruit loop to fruit loop.
If he lingers too long, the fruit loop will sink below
the cream _ as the cereal does in a breakfast bowl.
We are, of course, talking cereal here: the Fruit Loop
cereal marketed by Kellogg's in bright, eye-catching
boxes on the supermarket shelves, positioned near
cereals which earn a bigger tick from nutritionists.
The game is part of a Kellogg's website, festooned with
the same bright packaging seen at the supermarket and
one of the reasons the restrictions on television
advertising targeting children, which starts on July 1,
may not be as successful as the Ministry of Health might
Neither are these voluntary curbs on advertising certain
foods _ generally fatty, salty or sugary foods, kids'
favourites _ on TV likely to resolve all the ethical
problems arising from marketing campaigns aimed at
children, says Australian-based psychologist Cordelia
As worries grow about a looming obesity epidemic, New
Zealand television broadcasters have agreed to
voluntarily restrict advertising of some foods and
unhealthy drinks during designated children's viewing
Whether such restrictions, on a relatively narrow span
of viewing times, will have the desired effect is called
into question by Dr Fine, one of the keynote speakers at
the International Science Festival next month in
Dr Fine will reflect on the ethical issues faced by
families and society when advertising is targeted at
She says the debate surrounding the ethics of
advertising to children generally centres on the age at
which children have developed sufficient cognitive
resources to understand persuasive intent _ the point at
which they understand someone is trying to sell them
But research is beginning to show that even more
media-savvy children, 12 years and older, are not
necessarily any better equipped to shrug off the
advances of the advertising agency, she says.
Asked about the merits of television advertising
restrictions, Dr Fine says children do not always watch
their television at the relatively early times usually
thought of as constituting the standard children's
Given that, it is fair to assume those aged 12 and older
are even less likely to be affected.
Dr Fine says children are not just watching programmes
designed for them and, as a result of lifestyle changes,
more children are staying awake longer.
"And a lot of children have TVs in their room."
Marketing to children is already big business. Figures
from the US indicate that in 1990 about US$100 million
($131 million) was spent on TV advertising targeted at
children. A decade later that figure had risen more than
20-fold, to more than US$2 billion.
As the spend has increased, the vehicles for the
marketing messages have multiplied.
Dr Fine says advertisers have switched their approach
away from television and are making growing use of the
marketing power of the internet. Any net user will have
encountered video inserts and _ particularly where
children are concerned _ attractive advertising games
known as "advergames".
The advertiser's product is built-in to these games _ as
in the case of our friend Sam the Toucan. An approach
that has proved influential with young players.
If Toucan Sam is not your child's idea of a fun time,
they could try, for example, the Barbie Doll site _
which offers youngsters the chance to "think pink", as
they dress their electronic dolls and watch them sprout
If children are not seduced by that method, there are
always the "brand pushers",
young people recruited to promote products to their
friends and peers without disclosing the commercial
nature of their role.
"We need more research into children's capabilities, but
one obvious solution is to restrict the use of more
covert forms of marketing," Dr Fine says. "At the very
least, kids should know when they're being marketed to.
"There are really a few issues here. One is that parents
often find certain marketing techniques particularly
hard to deal with because of the pestering that they
elicit _ such as free toys that come with fast food, or
when breakfast cereals, snack foods and so on are
`endorsed' by a much-loved character like Shrek.
"Often the products are unhealthy, or they may just be
more expensive but are brilliantly designed to create
what psychologists term `parent-child conflict', and
parents call `an ugly scene' in the supermarket.
"This can make parenting a harder job on the day-to-day
level," Dr Fine says.
"What the research is increasingly showing is that the
conflict ... can be very damaging to the relationship
and to the child's self-esteem."
There is also concern that the sheer volume of marketing
to children is making kids more materialistic.
"The recent study, `Watching, Wanting and Wellbeing', by
Agnes Nairn and others, of more than 500 9- to
13-year-old British schoolchildren, found that watching
led to wanting _ and to the detriment of wellbeing.
"Greater materialism in the kids was linked with lower
self-esteem, and this seemed to be because of family
dynamics: the children had less positive attitudes
towards their parents and argued with them more often.
"A third issue is when parents feel that certain
products are being marketed to kids at too young an age.
"New advertising formats directed at kids link brands or
products with rewarding stimuli like friends,
celebrities, pop songs or shows. One issue is to what
extent children recognise more covert or `stealth'
"They are evolving fast, and the research hasn't really
kept up. But if advertising can persuade in ways that
bypass conscious awareness and rational reflection, as
research suggests that it might, then even being able to
spot a subtle marketing message may not help kids too
"And in fact, growing evidence suggests that older, more
media-savvy children are no less influenced by
advertising than their younger, more naive counterparts.
"Quite young children find food tastier if they eat out
of a McDonald's package."
Older, more sceptical youngsters have often been thought
to be better at resisting marketing appeals. However,
advertisers are often using "very emotional forms of
advertising" and are not just using persuasive
information, but aim to link a branded product with a
"positive emotional feeling".
University of Otago professor Sarah Todd, co-leader of
the university's Consumer Research Group, says she
shares the concerns expressed by many about the ability
of children and young people to understand "what is
really being said in advertisements" and how the
marketplace really works.
"Children today are undoubtedly subjected to far more
marketing pressure than were previous generations,"
Professor Todd says. There is a need for more updated
research, she says, particularly given the strong
influence of peer pressure on children.
Bans on the TV advertising of "junk food" have been
introduced in other countries but there is mixed
evidence as to their effectiveness, Professor Todd says.
Instead, children's defences continue to be overrun by
the all-out assault on their senses.
"I believe, is that it's not enough to tell kids that
they can't trust the marketing message _ usually there
isn't a `message' as such to trust anyway," says
Professor Todd. "What kids need to realise is that they
can't trust their own feeling about the product, because
it's been influenced by the advertising. That sort of
media-literacy training might be more effective _ but
probably only above a certain age."
The marketing issue for families is not simply whether
the product is healthy, she says.
There have been some attempts to address the situation
by using the advertisers' own tricks to peddle a
healthier message. For example, the Australian
children's pop group The Wiggles has been used to
promote healthy food products to youngsters. But there,
too, are difficulties. Affordability is another big part
of the picture. Branded products are often significantly
more costly than equally good but cheaper generic
products that parents might prefer to buy, Dr Fine says.
They just might not make your children love you.
- OTAGO DAILY TIMES
* Cordelia Fine's public lecture, Who's messing with my
mind?, is on July 6 at the University of Otago from noon
Advertisers oppose mandatory ban
Association of New Zealand Advertisers chief executive
Jeremy Irwin strongly rejects suggestions that
advertisers are exploiting children and families.
He also rejects the idea that mandatory regulations
should be used to control marketing, and points to the
voluntary restrictions recently agreed on by the New
Zealand free-to-air broadcasters.
Advertisers, manufacturers and others have done a "huge"
amount of work through the Food Industry Group to help
produce healthier food, Mr Irwin says.
The advertisers' association is taking a responsible
attitude and working closely with the Ministry of Health
and the Government to respond constructively to concerns
about obesity and the need for healthier eating, he
Mr Irwin queries whether mandatory regulations are the
best way of resolving conflicts within families.
Advertisements on the internet are also required to meet
officially approved standards, officials say.
Under the television broadcasting agreement, commercials
for "unhealthy" food and drinks will be banned during
time zones for children aged 5 to 13, defined by
* TV2: Monday to Friday, 7am-8.35am; 3.30pm to 5pm;
Saturday, 7am to 10am
* TV3: Monday to Friday, 7-9am
* Maori Television: Monday to Friday, 4.30pm-6pm;
From July 1, new food or beverage advertisements shown
at children's viewing times must be approved under the
Children's Food Classification System, with all
advertisements to comply by October 1.
The judgment about what constitutes an "unhealthy" food
and whether such products can be aired during these
times will be made by the Television Commercial
Approvals Bureau or a nutrition consultant.
Approvals bureau general manager Richard Prosser says
the children's zone restrictions are not intended as a
panacea and some children will watch advertisements
outside this time.
However, the zone period offers an "oasis" for parents,
knowing their children can safely watch unsupervised
during those times and parents themselves can give
guidance if children are watching with their families at
later hours, Mr Prosser says.
Broadcasters will also provide free screenings of public
health messages encouraging healthier eating by
children, during the kids' zones, he says.
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