If you have the chance, sit down and watch 30 minutes of children’s programming and pay close attention, not to the programming, but to the commercials that make up about 1/3 of the 30 minute viewing time. Besides advertising all manner of toys and movies with product tie-ins, your eyes will take in a glut of snack food commercials cynically aimed squarely at children. They are colorful, punchy, and frequently run with themes addressing fantasies of childhood independence, kids outsmarting cartoon villains, and unmitigated fun. The message, of course, is if you eat this crap, you will be in on the fun! See examples below:
This kind of advertising is hugely seductive, and draws children in like drones. For years parent groups and child advocacy coalitions have lobbied long and hard to try to curb such advertisement, especially for objectionable junk food. Now, in a move that is sure to be huge, the Walt Disney Co. became the first major media company to effectively ban ads for junk food on all its TV channels, radio stations, and websites, in hopes that by limiting exposure to such seductive media, kids will naturally make healthier choices. According to a press release by Disney, the food that doesn’t meet Disney’s new nutritional standards for broadcast goes well beyond candy bars and fast-food meals. For example, Capri Sun juice (too much sugar) and Oscar Mayer Lunchables (high sodium) won’t be advertised. Any cereal with 10 grams or more of sugar per serving is also off the air. A full meal can’t be more than 600 calories. Not surprisingly, First Lady Michelle Obama (longstanding advocate for more nutritious family eating) called this move by Disney a “game changer.”
While these sweeping changes won’t take full effect until 2015 (I guess media contracts have been inked 3 years into the future) the absence of Apple Jacks commercials is sure to be noticed and the ripples will likely extend to competing media networks like Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network. It is amazing that it has really taken this long for some entity to demonstrate some ethical responsibility toward their viewership. But then again, Disney has basically lost a good part of their advertiser base as well as all the money that comes with such contracts. Still, by making such a bold move, Disney becomes more esteemed, and maybe even trusted, among parents. They will certainly be rewarded with increased viewership.
What is your read on this move? Is it a little too late, or just what the nutritionist ordered? Do you think the barrage of junk food commercials adversely impacts young minds, or that it is something easily tuned out? Do you expect that this signals the end of junk food marketing as we know it?