WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Campbell Soup Co. and General Mills won't advertise products that don't meet certain nutritional standards to children under 12 anymore -- bringing the total of food marketers making that promise to 10 of the 11 companies that currently account for two-thirds of all food advertising dollars aimed at children.
The public pledges are intended to answer critics' charges that food and fast-food companies are not doing enough to combat rising childhood obesity. The pledges are part of an initiative the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the National Advertising Review Council are unveiling today at a workshop on children's obesity and marketing being held by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Cadbury the exception
General Mills and Campbell join Kellogg and Kraft Foods in going beyond the industry initiative's basic minimum requirement, which asks advertisers to devote 50% of their marketing toward more healthful foods and lifestyles. Several others in the coalition, which also includes Coca-Cola, Mars/Masterfoods, Hershey Foods, Unilever and Cadbury Adams, had limits in place before the initiative or did minimal advertising to children as a matter of course. The exception is Cadbury, which will put 50% -- rather than all -- of its Bubblicous ad dollars toward more healthful products.
The move is especially stunning for General Mills, which was initially said to be privately critical of rivals' cutbacks on the grounds that it made the industry look culpable for kids' obesity.
For children's media, the consequences could be significant. According to TNS Media Intelligence, the 11 marketers in the initiative spent $288 million last year on Viacom's Nickelodeon and Time Warner's Cartoon Network and another $27 million on Saturday-morning network TV.
A spokesman for Nickeloden, however, claimed that the "financial impact is virtually a nonissue for Nickelodeon because most of the products [advertised on the network] already fit healthy criteria or will otherwise be reformulated."
Trix ads no longer for kids
As part of its pledge, Campbell Soup will replace ads for regular Chicken Noodle Soup with spots for its 25% less-sodium variety. General Mills' pledge indicates Trix is no longer for kids in its current form. It is pledging not to advertise products with more than 12 grams of sugar per serving to children under 12. Products in its stable that currently don't make that cut include Trix (13 grams), Chocolate Lucky Charms (14 grams) and various Fruit Gushers. General Mills is also pledging to use licensed characters only on healthful foods and will introduce SpongeBob Squarepants frozen vegetables for kids.
McDonald's is promising to advertise to children only meals that meet certain nutritional standards. PepsiCo's new standards toss out ads for Cap'n Crunch, but will allow kid-targeted ads for Cheetos.
C. Lee Peeler, president-CEO of the National Advertising Review Council, said the changes are significant. "This is the first time that a majority of children's food advertisers have publicly committed, that if they are advertising foods to kids, they will be using nutritional information," he said. "It is a very strong program and an important voluntary response to industry to the concerns that have been raised."
The moves drew accolades from FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. "The pledges are a significant step forward in industry self-regulation," Ms. Platt Majoras said. "While changes in food marketing alone will not solve the nation's childhood obesity problem, these actions will help make a healthy choice the easy choice for parents and kids." She urged the other third of children's food advertisers to follow suit.
Margo Wootan, director-nutrition policy for Center for Science in the
Public Interest, also praised the steps. "I think it is terrific, it is a great step forward, we will get rid of some of the worst junk-food marketing to kids," she said. Ms. Wootan said the industry had moved significantly over the past few year on the issue of marketing to children.
Yet she wasn't fully satisfied. "Several major food companies -- Burger King, ConAgra, Nestle and Chuck E. Cheese -- are missing," she said, adding that media companies also have to step up.