Tag Archive | Marketing

Tricks Are For Kids: Manipulative Marketing, Pester Power, Michelle

This post from Nate Silver’s new Five Thirty Eight caught me eye. Researchers observed that many cartoon characters appearing on cereal boxes are looking down, which means they could be trying to make eye contact with kids. Could this matter?

Of the 86 characters that appeared on 65 boxes, the researchers noted that 57 were looking downward (they found that these cereals tended to be placed on middle shelves. So looking downward means looking at children).

Then, the researchers tested whether eye contact increased positive feelings toward the brand. They digitally altered a box of Trix and asked 63 university students to rate it

When the researchers compared the responses against control cereal boxes on which characters weren’t looking downward, they found that eye contact increased attention to, trust in and connection with the brand. When participants were asked to choose between Trix and Fruity Pebbles, they were more likely to choose Trix when the character on the box, a rabbit, was looking down at them.

To get a first hand feel for this creepy phenomenon, I hoofed it over to my local Fred Meyer to browse the cereal aisle, a place I’ve only stopped in once before to grab some store brand bran flakes for homemade muesli. The first thing walking into that aisle made me realize was how many SINKs and DINKs live in my neighborhood. There just wasn’t the expected endless, piebald wall of technicolor leprechauns, toucans and hyper-kinetic rabbits. They were there, but here’s the funny thing. They were relegated to the bottom shelves. And here’s the creepy thing. They were looking up at me, trying to make eye contact from the place on the floor.


Apparently the the rabbit and the leprechaun have a back up plan for stores where their corporate overlords aren’t willing to pay top dollar for slotting fees. My guess is that the manufacturers have different boxes depending on what slots they are paying for.

But Adrian Peterson didn’t need to TRY to make eye contact, I had to TRY to avoid it.


At 5′ 9″, I am apparently the exact height of a prospective Wheaties customer.

The Lords of Cereal are not playing around. Especially when it comes to hunting kids through marketing. Here’s Marion Nestle summarizing the findings of a major literature review conducted by the Institute of Medicine in 2006:

The IOM analyzes the results of 123 published, peer-reviewed studies addressing links between food marketing and children’s preferences, requests, consumption, and adiposity. Despite Talmudic parsing of the limitations of the research, the IOM finds that the preponderance of evidence supports the links. Marketing strongly influences children’s food preferences, requests, and consumption. The idea that some forms of marketing increase the risk of obesity, says the IOM, “cannot be rejected.”

The IOM conducted its study under a considerable handicap. Companies would not provide proprietary information, because the IOM is required to make public all documents it uses. The report reveals why companies insist on keeping such research private. It lists numerous firms that conduct marketing research focused even on preschool children, using methods — photography, ethnography, focus groups — in an Orwellian-sounding fashion to elucidate the psychological underpinnings of children’s food choices, “kid archetypes,” the “psyche of mothers as the family gatekeeper,” and “parent–child dyads of information.” As the IOM documents, this enterprise is breathtaking in its comprehensive and unabashed effort to provide a research basis for exploiting the suggestibility of young children. Although marketers justify appeals to children as “training” in consumer culture, as free speech, and as good for business, they are not selling just any consumer product: they are selling junk foods to children who would be better off not eating them.

. . . Marketing to children is hardly new, but recent methods are far more intense and pervasive. Television still predominates, but the balance is shifting to product placements in toys, games, educational materials, songs, and movies; character licensing and celebrity endorsements; and less visible “stealth” campaigns involving word of mouth, cellular-telephone text messages, and the Internet. All aim to teach children to recognize brands and pester their parents to buy them. The IOM notes that by two years of age, most children can recognize products in supermarkets and ask for them by name.

But the most insidious purpose of marketing is to persuade children to eat foods made “just for them” — not what adults are eating. Some campaigns aim to convince children that they know more about what they are “supposed to” eat than their parents do. Marketers explicitly attempt to undermine family decisions about food choices by convincing children that they, not adults, should control those choices.4 Indeed, children now routinely report that they, and not their parents, decide what to eat.

We can see their handiwork in a new study:

A new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, now shows just how powerful that advertising and branding can be. Researchers showed children stills from fast food commercials and asked them to name the various foods in the frame. Only 10% of the kids correctly identified Burger King’s apple slices, packaged liked french fries, while the majority confused them for french fries. Around one-half to one-third of the kids in the study couldn’t correctly identify milk in McDonald’s and Burger King children ads.

Watch the confusion here:

It adds to a robust literature on children’s perceptions and advertising. The most policy relevant subset of that literature is on children’s ability to understand persuasive intent. Plunging into a deep dive on the topic will have to wait for a future post, but it’s the lynch pin for calls to severely limit marketing to children. The question is central to answer the question of whether marketing to children is inherently misleading. If it is, then the advertisers First Amendment rights are superseded by the consumer’s right not to be misled.

The other subset that calls for a closer look is pester power. That is the idea that, although kids aren’t the decision makers as consumers, they can be convinced and motivated to nag their parents into making purchases that the parents would prefer not to make. People of a libertarian bent, who would be quick to dismiss the legitimacy of lending policy weight to this idea need to understand the emerging consensus that willpower is, in important ways, a finite resource that can be exhausted. Kids are diabolically savvy about exhausting that resource, even as they are less savvy about the marketers manipulating them.

The concept of pester power buttresses the central premise that marketing to children is inherently manipulative in the policy responses in a number of countries.

In the United Kingdom, Greece, Denmark, and Belgium advertising to children is restricted, and in Quebec, Sweden and Norway advertising to children under the age of 12 is illegal.

The European Union also has framework legislation in place which sets down minimum provisions on advertising to children for its 27 member states. The EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, due to replace the Television Without Frontiers Directive in all member states by the end of 2009, sets out several EU-wide rules on advertising and children:

Advertising shall not cause moral or physical detriment to minors, and shall therefore comply with the following criteria for their protection:

a. it shall not directly exhort minors to buy a product or a service by exploiting their inexperience or credulity;
b. it shall not directly encourage minors to persuade their parents or others to purchase the goods or services being advertised;
c. it shall not exploit the special trust minors place in parents, teachers or other persons;
d. it shall not unreasonably show minors in dangerous situations

In addition:

e. Children’s programs may only be interrupted if the scheduled duration is longer than 30 minutes
f. Product placement is not allowed in children’s programs.
g. The Member States and the Commission should encourage audiovisual media service providers to develop codes of conduct regarding the advertising of certain foods in children’s programs.

On a different front, in the a same battle:

First lady Michelle Obama stepped up the pressure Tuesday against companies selling junk food to students, announcing a new government proposal that would ban advertising of sodas and unhealthy snacks in public schools.

The new USDA rules would phase out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods on vending machines and around campuses during the school day and set guidelines for other in-school promotions, from banners hung in hallways to sponsored scoreboards on school football fields.

I have to give Michelle Obama credit. While each piece of her Let’s Move campaign has been an underwhelming compromised step forward, they are slowly, but surely starting to add up to something substantial when taken as a whole.

Getting a handle on marketing and competitive schools is a no brainer, since there are no difficult legal, philosophical or public health questions to be addressed; only interest group politics. That means if we want better compromises, we need a stronger public health constituency.


Why the Trix Rabbit Looks Down on You
Mona Chalabi and Allison McCann | FiveThirtyEight | 2 April 2014

Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity — A Matter of Policy
Marion Nestle | The New England Journal of Medicine | 15 June 2006

Watch: Kids Confuse Apple Slices for French Fries in Fast Food Ads
Alexandra Sifferlin | Time | 1 April 2014

Children’s Reaction to Depictions of Healthy Foods in Fast-Food Television Advertisements
Amy M. Bernhardt, MEd; Cara Wilking, JD; Mark Gottlieb, JD; Jennifer Emond, PhD; James D. Sargent, MD | JAMA Pediatrics | 31 March 2014

The science of willpower
Lia Steakley | The Scope | Stanford Medicine | 29 December 2011

Advertising to Children

First Lady Proposes Ban on Junk Food Marketing in Schools
Maggie Fox | NBC News | 25 February 2014



Eddie Gehman Kohan | Obamafoodorama

“I’m here today with one simple request– and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids,” Mrs. Obama said.

Speaking from beneath the historic portrait of Lincoln in the packed State Dining Room, Mrs. Obama laid out her vision for continuing the “cultural shift” toward healthier eating she said is already underway thanks to her Let’s Move! campaign.

More than 100 guests attended the event, billed by the White House as the first of its kind at 1600 Penn. They included representatives from food, beverage and media giants, as well as academic experts, parent leaders and public health advocates.

Paul Bennett | Medium

I am sitting talking to Sean, a 17-year-old working-class kid from Handsworth, a notoriously tough area of Birmingham in the UK’s Midlands. His speech is strangely inarticulate and slurred, his accent heavy and laced with slang—original Jamaican patois mixed with English street. I have family from Birmingham and know the nasal dialect,but even I am struggling to understand and keep up.

What I do understand is that Sean is hiding something. He has a condition known as Phenylketonuria, a serious metabolic disorder that we are studying for a client of ours. They manufacture a food supplement which helps moderate the effects. PKU, as it is known, is an inability for the human body to process any form of complex protein, meaning that the sufferer is resigned to a life of bland, low-protein food: no red meat, chicken, cheese, nuts, or legumes. Staples such as bread, pasta and rice have to be carefully monitored. Most are simply impossible to digest.


Kimberly Kindy | The Washington Post | 8 September 2013

A meat inspection program that the Agriculture Department plans to roll out in pork plants nationwide has repeatedly failed to stop the production of contaminated meat at American and foreign plants that have already adopted the approach, documents and interviews show.

The program allows meat producers to increase the speed of processing lines by as much as 20 percent and cuts the number of USDA safety inspectors at each plant in half, replacing them with private inspectors employed by meat companies. The approach has been used for more than a decade by five American hog plants under a pilot program.

But three of these plants were among the 10 worst offenders in the country for health and safety violations, with serious lapses that included failing to remove fecal matter from meat, according to a report this spring by the USDA inspector general. The plant with the worst record by far was one of the five in the pilot program.

Dan Charles | The Salt | NPR

n the quirky little college town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, home to many unconventional ideas over the years, there’s now a small insect factory.

It’s an unassuming operation, a generic boxy building in a small industrial park. It took me a while even to find a sign with the company’s name: . But its goal is grand: The people at EnviroFlight are hoping that their insects will help our planet grow more food while conserving land and water.

They don’t expect you to eat insects. (Sure, Asians and Africans do it, but Americans are finicky.) The idea is, farmed insects will become food for fish or pigs.

Consumers Union

In a move decried by consumer and environmental groups as severely weakening the meaning of the organic label, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week that the agency had changed the process for exempting otherwise prohibited substances (such as synthetics) in food that carries the “organic” or “made with organic” label. No public comment period was provided for the changes to this policy, which had been in place since 2005.

Under the federal organic law[1] and prior to Friday’s announcement, there was a controlled process for allowing the use of substances not normally permitted in organic production because of extenuating circumstances. These exemptions were supposed to be made for a five-year period, in order to encourage the development of natural (or organic) alternatives. The exemptions were required by law to expire, known as “sunset,” unless they were reinstated by a two-thirds “decisive” majority vote of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and include a public review. This is no longer the case.

Stephanie Strom | The New York Times

Dirt in two fields around Alton where biotech corn was being grown was hard and compact. Prying corn stalks from the soil with a shovel was difficult, and when the plants finally came up, their roots were trapped in a chunk of dirt. Once freed, the roots spread out flat like a fan and were studded with only a few nodules, which are critical to the exchange of nutrients.

In comparison, conventional corn in adjacent fields could be tugged from the ground by hand, and dirt with the consistency of wet coffee grounds fell off the corn plants’ knobby roots.

“Because glyphosate moves into the soil from the plant, it seems to affect the rhizosphere, the ecology around the root zone, which in turn can affect plant health,” said Robert Kremer, a scientist at the United States Agriculture Department, who has studied the impact of glyphosate on soybeans for more than a decade and has warned of the herbicide’s impact on soil health.


Here’s some food for thought: One-third of the world’s food goes to waste every year. In the U.S., about 40 percent of our food gets thrown out. It’s happening on the farm, at the grocery store and in our own homes.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about what to do about it — from that’s past its prime to getting restaurants to .

, the former president of Trader Joe’s, is determined to repurpose the perfectly edible produce slightly past its sell-by date that ends up in the trash. (That happens in part because people misinterpret the labels, according to a out this week from Harvard and the National Resources Defense Council.) To tackle the problem, Rauch is opening a new market early next year in Dorchester, Mass., that will prepare and repackage the food at deeply discounted prices.


Jesse Rhodes | Food and Think | Smithsonian

From a food standpoint, a pirate’s life was problematic. Being at sea and without easy access to major seaports meant that there was rarely a steady supply of food and hunger was a regular aspect of day-to-day living. Much of their lives were spent on board a ship, and perpetually damp conditions put normal pantry staples such as flour and dried beans at high risk of mold. Climate also presented preservation problems: if sailing in warmer regions of the world, such as the Caribbean, keeping fresh fruits and meats was near impossible. Fresh water was also difficult to keep during long sea voyages because it could develop algae scum. By contrast, alcohol would never spoil, making beer and rum the preferred preferred beverages. Rum, in addition to being consumed straight up, was used along with cinnamon and other spices to sweeten stagnant water and make grog. Dried meats and hardtack, a relatively shelf-stable biscuit, were regular parts of a pirate’s diet, although the latter was frequently infested with weevils.


The photos come to us from the youth nonprofit DoSomething.org, who have asked teens to share photos of their school lunches throughout the month of September. The full gallery is on the Do Something site, and users can vote to “toss” or “eat” each photo.

As demonstrated by the cringe-worthy images above, it’s an effective campaign idea — and the nonprofit plans to use the data gathered to create a “heat map” of school lunches in the U.S. Their goal is to raise awareness of the sad state of nutrition in public schools.

Kristen Goulray | The Salt | NPR

For the past few weeks, the culinary arts students at University in Providence, R.I., have been working with some less-than-seasoned sous chefs.

One of them, Clinton Piper, may look like a pro in his chef’s whites, but he’s struggling to work a whisk through some batter. “I know nothing about baking,” he says.

Luckily, he’s got other qualifications. Piper is a fourth-year medical student at , and he’s here for a short rotation through a new designed to educate med students and chefs-in-training about nutrition.
Johanna Terron, 14, has lost over 20 pounds over the past year. She receives a prescription for fruits and vegetables from her pediatrician at Lincoln Hospital.

“I think it’s forward thinking to start to see, to view food as medicine,” he says. “That’s not something that’s really on our radar in medical education. But with the burden of disease in the United States being so heavily weighted with lifestyle disease, I think it’s a very, very logical next step.”

David Hayden | Farming America

2)You portray meat being processed and coming straight out of factories. Where do you think your meat comes from? I’m a meat scientist and have been in PLENTY of “Factories” that produce YOUR products. That’s right, farmer John isn’t killing and processing your meat on the family farm, it’s all coming from a factory. So please don’t act like just because you carry an “All Natural” label your products are exempt from processing.

3)And then there’s this;

Really Chipotle, what is this? Are you simulating farmers pumping hormones into their chicken so they grow big and fat? Let’s talk about that for a second; hormones are ILLEGAL, so since they are illegal, they are NOT used in poultry production. My family raises commercial poultry, and let me tell you, there is no “shot giving” to any of those animals. I couldn’t imagine giving 100,000 birds an individual shot. THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN.

Tom Paulson | Humanosphere

“We fully expect golden rice will continue to be a lightning rod in this debate,” said Alex Reid, a spokeswoman for the Gates Foundation on its agricultural programs. The Seattle philanthropy supports research into a variety of GM crop technologies as one of many options aimed at improving agricultural productivity and utility in poor communities, Reid said, but their spending on GMOs remains less than 10 percent of the entire agricultural program budget. She noted that the Gates Foundation has spent about $2 billion on agriculture since adding that to its humanitarian portfolio in the mid-2000s. The most recent annual report, Reid said, put agriculture spending at more than $370 million in 2011 (with the golden rice project getting about $10 million).

Support for golden rice research also comes from the Rockefeller Foundation and the US Agency for International Development.

“If it turns out to be safe an effective, we would support it,” she said. “For now, we just see it as one of many options. We would describe our position on this as ‘technologically agnostic,’ meaning we are neither for or against GM crops. We just want to use what works.”

Martin Enserink | Science

A study in which Chinese children were fed a small amount of genetically modified rice violated university and U.S. federal rules on human research, according to a statement issued yesterday by Tufts University in Boston, whose scientists led the study. Tufts has barred the principal investigator, Guangwen Tang, from doing human research for 2 years and will require her to undergo training in research on human subjects.

In August 2012, Tang and colleagues published a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing that golden rice is a promising source of vitamin A in Chinese children aged 6 to 8 years old. The study ignited a media firestorm in China a few weeks later, after Greenpeace issued a statement claiming that the children were used as “guinea pigs” and labeling the study a “scandal of international proportions.” Three Chinese collaborators who initially denied involvement in the study, according to media reports, were punished for their participation in December, following an official investigation in China, and parents of the children received generous financial compensation from the Chinese government.

. . . The reviews found no evidence of health or safety problems in the children fed golden rice; they also concluded that the study’s data were scientifically accurate and valid. Indeed, Souvaine’s letter to the USDA stresses that the results “have important public health and nutrition implications, for China and other parts of the world.”