Food-vertising - Is There Honesty in Marketing Foods?

  • 2 Minutes Read
  • Feb 13, 2014

Do you know just how much exposure your kids have to food ads? Do you know how "unhealthy" those ads are? Find out more here.

Food-vertising - Is There Honesty in Marketing Foods?

How many times have you walked down the cereal aisle of the grocery store and your child(ren) immediately reaches for the box with their favorite cartoon character on it, or they recite line by line the catch phrases for any number of sugar-laded cereals ("Trix are for kids!" or "They'rrre Great!", etc.). There have been many interesting and thought-provoking studies over the years that explore how brands market their food products, and in light of all the recent discussions around the Super Bowl ads, perhaps it is time we pause to consider how foods are marketed to our families.

In 2005, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found that in monitoring over 27 hours of children's Saturday television programming nearly half (49%) of all advertisements were for food (281 ads out of 572). The most commonly shown food ads were for ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and cereal bars, and an astounding 91 percent of all food advertisements were for foods or beverages high in fat, sodium, or added sugars, or were low in nutrients.

Furthermore, cartoon characters were used in 74 percent of food advertisements, and in 26 percent of the food ads, toys or other giveaways were advertised. Eighty-six percent of all food ads also contained emotional appeals.

For some perspective on just how influential these ads can be, consider how much exposure children have to these ads. Children between 2 and 11 spend an average of three hours per day in front of the television, and those children see about 5,500 food advertisements per year. That's over 15 food ads every day, which 91 percent of those ads are for non-healthy foods/drinks! Preschoolers alone see an average of 2.8 fast food ads every day!

It's also been documented that one 30-second ad can influence food preferences of children as young as two years old. And one study showed how preschool children showed a preference for foods that came in McDonald's packaging versus the same food in plain packaging. There were other similar studies that yielded the same result for food packaged with prominent media characters over plain packaging. McDonald's, interestingly, also spent 2.7 times more in advertising in 2012 than all fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined.

Children younger than eight years old do not have a developed understanding of selling, and often they believe what they see. Only about 40 percent of 11 and 12 year olds have a full understanding of advertising's persuasive intent.

To address this, some companies are trying to advertise healthy foods with character brands, such as Kung-Fu Panda Edamame. Yet, this perpetuates the problem that children still make food associations and food choices based on marketing instead of actual nutrition, hunger, or taste. The reason media characters do not make good role models for food is because they are not limited to vegetables or healthy foods. How many different food items have you seen advertised with the Disney Princesses, or Cars, or whatever else animated movie is currently in the box office? The inherent danger is that kids will follow these icons wherever they go instead of making their own healthy food choices.

And just to show that it's not all aimed at children, consider this article from Time in 2010 that asked "What if You Ate Only What Was Advertised on TV?" The result, according to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is that based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, eating the foods advertised over 84 hours of prime-time programming and 12 hours of Saturday morning cartoons, one would exceed the DRI of fat by 20 times and consume 25 times more sugar than the DRI (equal to a month's worth of sugar intake in one day!). In the same study, it was also found that consuming fruits and vegetables based on advertising levels provided less than half the recommend daily servings recommended.

So tell us, what do you do to safeguard yourself and your family against media persuasion from food ads?

Meal Planning & Diets->"Plan, Shop, Prep, and Cook" Weight Loss->Family & Friends
Ryan Newhouse - is the Marketing Director for MyNetDiary and writes for a variety of publications. He wants you to check out MyNetDiary on Instagram!

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