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The Ad Diet

May 18th, 2010

You say you want a food revolution? Well, my friends, come join us at the table.

Last week, the White House released a report that outlines steps to fight a national epidemic—childhood obesity. According to the report, “one in every three children ages 2-19 is overweight or obese.” As part of their suggested changes, the report is calling for food companies and junk food makers to go on what amounts to an “advertising diet.” Food companies are being asked to regulate all forms of marketing to children, and food retailers should avoid in-store marketing that promotes unhealthy products. This includes promotion of popular media characters. Could this be the end for Count Chocula and the Silly Rabbit?

Alas, the report is stirring up the ongoing debate among marketers, government leaders, and the general public—is advertising the sinister force wooing our kids into the obesity pit? We’ve seen this same argument in violent videogames and oversexed movies, among others. Advertisements have undoubtedly become a prominent form of persuasion. Young people view more than 40,000 ads per year on television alone. But will these “suggestions” create the right recipe for change?  After all, there are several other significant parts of the childhood obesity equation (i.e.: parents).

It’s clear that America is in the midst of culinary crisis. Our nation’s children are the first generation not expected to live as long as their parents. Though the Let’s Move campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama is tackling the cause, foodbecoming a change leader alongside other food ambassadors like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters.

But while its 120 page report is certainly creating attention, in order to see real change, Let’s Move should integrate both top down and bottom up strategies—tapping the resilience, creativity and commitment of the whole system—from farm to fork. Grassroots efforts, such as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign, show action and are often more appetizing approaches.

It will be interesting to watch how (and which) food companies and marketers will react.  Maybe they’ll brush the advice aside. Or perhaps they will see this as an opportunity to change their own eating habits and bite into a new marketing approach.

We’ll just have to wait and see…

Posted Under: Advertising
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