Food Companies Spend Big, Target Kids & Teens with Integrated Marketing

August 7, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

CPG & FMCG | Promotions, Coupons & Co-op | Retail & E-Commerce | Television | Youth & Gen X

Forty-four of the largest food and beverage marketers in the US spent $1.6 billion in 2006 hawking their products to children and adolescents, according to a report from the US Federal Trade Commission.

Those marketers frequently used integrated campaigns, combining traditional media with previously unmeasured forms of marketing, such as packaging, in-store advertising, sweepstakes, and online, the FTC said.

The highest marketing expenditures were on breakfast cereals, followed by restaurant foods and snack foods. The lowest amount of money was spent advertising fruits and vegetables and dairy products.


The report, “Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents: A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation,” (PDF) examines advertising to children under 12 and adolescents ages 12 to 17, and provides guidelines, initiatives and suggestions on how food and beverage marketers can encourage children and teens to make better food choices and lead healthier lifestyles.

Detailed findings:

  • $870 million was spent on child-directed marketing in 2006.


  • More than $1 billion was spent on marketing to adolescents.


  • There was about a $300 million overlap between the two age groups.


  • Marketers spent $745 million, or 46% of the 2006 total, on TV advertising. This was the most money spent on any one technique.
  • For most food products, marketers employ the full spectrum of promotional techniques and formats when advertising to a young audience. Themes from television ads carry over to packaging, displays in stores or restaurants, and online.

Cross promotions are an integral part of child- and teen-directed campaigns, the report found. Campaigns often involve cross-promotion with a new movie or popular television program:

  • Cross-promotions tied foods and beverages to about 80 movies, television shows, and animated characters that appeal primarily to children.
  • Companies spent more than $208 million, accounting for 13% of all youth-directed marketing, on cross-promotional campaigns.
  • For some food categories, such as restaurant food and fruits and vegetables, cross-promotions accounted for nearly 50% of reported child-directed expenditures.

“Our study makes a path-breaking contribution to understanding how food and media industries are marketing food to youth,” said FTC Chairman William E. Kovacic. “We call on both industries to deploy their talents to promote healthier choices for children and adolescents.”

Food and beverage industries have made significant progress since the FTC and the Department of Health and Human Services co-sponsored the Workshop on Marketing, Self-Regulation & Childhood Obesity in 2005, the FTC said. The report cites the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, launched by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) in 2006, for taking “important steps to encourage better nutrition and fitness among the nation’s children,” by changing the mix of food and beverage advertising messages directed to children under 12 and encouraging them toward healthier eating and better physical fitness.

To date, 13 of the largest food and beverage companies have adopted the initiative, pledging either not to advertise to children under 12, or to limit their television, radio, print, and internet advertising to foods that meet specified nutritional standards.

Several major food and beverage companies also have adopted the Alliance for a Healthier Generation guidelines, designed to lower the caloric value and increase the nutritional value of foods and drinks sold in schools outside the school-meal program.

“Most large food marketers are beginning to take their self-regulatory obligations seriously, and for that they deserve recognition,” FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said. “Yet some companies still need to step up to the plate and others need to strengthen their voluntary measures.”

About the study: The Commission obtained the data for the report through compulsory process orders requiring financial and marketing information from beverage manufacturers and bottlers; producers of packaged snacks, baked goods, cereals, and prepared meals; makers of candy and chilled desserts; dairy marketers; fruit and vegetable growers; and quick-service restaurants.


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