Smart Cookies: Food Advertising for Kids

Posted June 20, 2016 | By Tricia Hussung

Food advertising for kids

The American food and beverage industry has come to view children and adolescents as a highly valuable segment of the market. This is why young people are the subject of sophisticated food marketing campaigns and strategies. According to an article in The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, food marketers are interested in reaching children because they are consumers in their own right: Children have spending power, purchasing influence on their parents and are future adult consumers as well. To build relationships and brand recognition, marketers use multiple techniques and channels including traditional options like radio and television and emerging media found on the web.

While it is unclear exactly how much is spent on food advertising alone, companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children. Children under age 14 spend around $40 billion per year, and children under age 12 influence up to $500 billion in purchases. It’s important for advertisers to reach child consumers because they have real buying power.

Brand preference in children is driven by two main factors, The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity explains. First, children who have positive experiences with the brand are more likely to choose it. Second, when parents prefer a brand, children tend to as well. A child’s first request for a product happens at around 24 months of age, and the most requested in-store item is breakfast cereal (47 percent), followed by snacks and beverages (30 percent). If marketers want kids to choose their brand, they must craft stand-out advertisements to reach this influential audience.

Kids have unique buying habits all their own, and savvy marketers are crafting campaigns and other messaging to give them what they want. Here’s one example: A study in Pediatrics found that children “significantly prefer the taste of junk foods branded with licensed cartoon characters on the packaging.” This creates a causal relationship between licensed characters and children’s preferences. The same study found that children are “significantly more likely” to choose character-branded food items for snacks than those without characters. Here are some other ways that marketers create effective food advertisements designed for kids:

  • Web: As kids spend more and more time online, advertisers are designing interactive games and other content specifically for the web. “Advergames,” branded games usually housed on company websites, are one way that marketers can attract children’s attention. This type of content allows the user to interact with brands in an entertaining way by integrating site content and advertisements. Advergames might feature word-find puzzles, contests, quizzes or other concepts and may even be educational, blending marketing, skill development and fun into one package.
  • Television: One of the most effective ways to market food to kids is through television commercials. According to some estimates, U.S. food manufacturers spend more than 75 percent of their advertising budget on television. On average, children 6 to 11 years of age spend about 28 hours a week watching TV, so advertisers have the opportunity to reach kids during this ever-increasing screen time. Licensed characters are a common feature for these commercials.
  • In-school advertising: Especially over the past few decades, marketers have begun to utilize schools as effective marketing channels for kids. They are able to reach large numbers of children and adolescents in one place, and they can offer school districts much-needed funding in exchange for selling products in school vending machines, utilizing indirect advertising and even sponsoring field trips.
  • Product placement: The practice of product placement is becoming more popular among marketers as well. This involves featuring brands in movies or television shows in return for promotional support. Marketers might negotiate deals that allow the product to be used as a prop or even as part of the script.
  • Branded products: Food companies have begun marketing toys and other products with brand logos and licensed characters. Marketers partner with toy and clothing manufacturers to create products that advertise food. The M&M’s candy company is a prime example of this, offering novelty items and other branded products that incorporate characters and the M&M’s logo.
  • Other promotions: Marketers engage with children in other ways as well: cross-selling and tie-ins enable companies to combine their promotional efforts in order to sell a product. For example, food brands may sponsor sports teams or children’s entertainment events like live shows.

Of course, it is important that marketers use responsible methods when marketing to children. Especially with the rising rates of childhood obesity, advertisers have made commitments to only advertise healthy foods and use only age-appropriate tactics. Many food company websites require visitors to enter a birthdate before they can continue, or restrict marketing to foods that meet certain health standards. For example, in both the United States and Canada, the “Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative” was created to ensure that food marketers would “refrain from advertising certain food products to children,” according to The Globe and Mail. Companies that have signed on include Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Nestle and others. Measures like these from within the marketing industry ensure that marketers promote their products in a safe, effective way and responsibly engage younger demographics.

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