FTC Studies Food, Beverage Marketing to Kids

The Federal Trade Commission released what it calls a baseline report on food and beverage marketing to kids that found that there is a multiplatform effort to get them to buy the products, with TV leading the way.

The commission recommended that media companies join the Council of Better Business Bureau's Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative and become more involved in promoting healthier foods. But it did not lay the blame for childhood obesity on advertising, saying that the lack of physical-education programs in schools and more sedentary lifestyles -- which include TV and video games -- were also culprits.

It also did not recommend that the government step in, with Lydia Parnes, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, saying that the commission wanted to wait and give self-regulation a chance.

But the baseline the FTC found was a multiplatform effort to corral the kids in a "sweeping net of exposure" that included: TV ads; promotional displays; toys and premium giveaways; packaging that directed kids to Web sites where they could enter a sweepstakes or play a game or e-mail their friends; tie-ins to movies (the FTC said 80 TV shows, films and video games were used to cross-promote foods); branded clothing; ring tones; word of mouth; event marketing; product placement in TV shows and movies; athletic sponsorships; and more.

The commission said food companies, marketers and media companies need to marshal similar forces to shift the emphasis toward marketing foods with more nutritional value and healthier lifestyles.

Key among its recommendations was that all food and beverage companies, not just those 14 members of the BBB initiative, adopt and adhere to nutritional-based standards for ads targeted toward kids under 23, including joining the initiative. It also recommended that all companies stop in-school promotion for foods and beverages that do not meet nutritional standards, as well as the recommendation that media companies do more to self-regulate.

The CBBB beat the FTC to the punch with its own report earlier in the day praising food and beverage companies for their progress in self-regulation.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.