A new report by Berkeley Media Studies Group, part of the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, California focuses on the different methods companies use to advertise food to kids. It focuses on methods that have become popularized in the last two years such as the utilization of social networks. The main concern is that though mediums such as TV are somewhat regulated, but the online world still has no true regulations. Junk food advertising has been a huge concern and lawmakers have started to move to present a proposal to Congress to restrict junk food advertising. One author of the report says “With social networking, marketers are getting the kids to create the ads and share them with their friends. It is incredibly sticky and it is viral. Regulators need to understand that.”
A few years back there was a wave of concern over the obesity epidemic as schools started to present healthier alternatives and transfats were taken out of fast food restaurants. This epidemics still continues today with the percentage of overweight kids under age 12 being five times what it was the previous generation.
To the food marketer’s credit, there has been significant progress in the decrease of marketing dollars targeting kids and teens. However the new report that is to be presented to Congress still estimates $1.6 billion was spent in 2006 by food and beverage marketers to sell their products to kids under 12 years old. However the old way of measuring online advertising can be misleading because these new online tactics often cost less but have a deeper reach for a longer period of time. This was echoed by the executive director of the Center of Digital Democracy a public interest group focused on internet policy.
For example, Coca-Cola launched a social marketing campaign in facebook that let’s users create a character called “Sprite Sips” that they share with their friends. Coke pays to create the ad, but doesn’t need to invest any dollars to make it go viral. Many companies also create websites created for older kids, but place many games that appeal to those who are younger. The report also discusses how companies utilize behavioral targeting to go after the youth especially in the inner city where kids are at the most risk for obesity. Behavioral targeting utilizing a person’s behavior or habits when surfing the web to present a relevant ad.
The difficult part is that it isn’t clear who has the authority to regulate online advertising. Congress took away FTC’s authority to regulate advertising. So who is responsible? The government? A regulation agency? Or should parents not wait and take responsibility by restricting or removing exposure to such advertising?
Also what about all the violence and sexual content during prime time? Isn’t that just as serious as junk food?