Marketing regulation is focused on consumption — whether food marketers continue with self-regulation or legislators impose new restrictions. But that’s just half the problem with obesity; the other piece is physical activity. The Ad Council, health advocates and food companies are encouraging kids to move more as part of a total health message.
The Ad Council launched a Coalition for Healthy Children in July to get food marketers on board with a consistent message. The coalition has begun approaching food marketers to incorporate three messages in their own marketing: healthy choices, portion size and physical activity. It’ll take about 18 months to get enough brands behind the effort to test its efficacy, says Ad Council Campaign Director Anthony Signorelli: “We’re giving [marketers] the points and consumer language that we know works. Once the program is adopted by a number of organizations, we’ll measure it again in the field.”
The Ad Council worked with Strottman International and McCann Erickson over 10 months to hone, then test concepts with kids and parents. It picked the most concise, clear and inspirational messages to share with marketers for their own campaigns, and health organizations to use in education programs.
“The goal is two-fold: to galvanize the industry, and to get everyone focused on [communicating in a way] that’s relevant for kids and parents,” says Strottman VP-Account Director Lisa Collings. “This is not to tell non-profits and marketers what to say, because that’s too hard across categories. This leverages economies of scale in a flexible way. After 18 months, we want to see attitude changes that will lead to behavior changes over time.”
The Ad Council’s original coalition members — Campbell Soup Co., Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods, Pepsico, Subway, Welch Foods, American Dietetic Association Foundation, American Heart Association and Time Magazine — will be first to incorporate the messages. (General Mills, Kellogg, Cartoon Network, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Girl Scouts of the USA have since joined the coalition.) An intranet forum lets coalition members access Ad Council and Strottman research, including a survey of 1,000 parents that found that only 35% actively play with their kids often.
“We need to change the dialogue between parents and kids,” says Ad Council Senior VP Heidi Arthur. “If your kid is playing soccer and the coach gives him an orange, he’ll eat it. If he’s playing videogames and you give him an orange, he looks at you like you have four arms.”
This fall, the Ad Council and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) breaks a PSA campaign showing kids six to nine how their diet affects their performance. “The question is, are you eating a home run or a strikeout?” Signorelli says. TV, online and maybe radio and print ads break this fall via McCann Erickson, New York, with an in-school effort slated for January.
The campaign is an extension of HHS’ 19-month-old Small Steps campaign, through the Ad Council. That will run at least through 2009, encouraging adults to make small changes in diet and exercise to improve their health. The effort garnered $106 million in donated media in its first 10 months, gets about 80,000 unique visitors to its Web site (www.smallsteps.gov) each month and has signed 90,000 subscribers for e-newsletters.
But the Ad Council has no plans for PSAs as part of the coalition effort; the Ad Council handles about 50 PSAs a year on education, safety, community and obesity.
At the same time, former President Bill Clinton has joined forces with the American Heart Assocation for a 10-year initiative to stop the rise of childhood obesity by 2010, and cut it 10% by 2015. By yearend, the William J. Clinton Foundation and AHA will launch a Web site and, later, a campaign to teach heart-healthy nutrition and exercise to kids nine to 13. AHA and the Clinton Foundation also will work with: restaurants (starting with QSRs), to set better nutrition and portions, and hone marketing to suit healthier habits; media, to promote good habits; and schools, to improve meals and increase physical activity.
Meanwhile, food marketers are scaling back on their own ads, reformulating recipes, and pitching increased activity to kids.
“There’s major incentive for companies to come up with healthier new products,” said ANA Executive VP Dan Jaffe at the FTC “Perspectives on Marketing, Self-Regulation, & Childhood Obesity” workshop in July. “We’ll see more of that because companies are making money with this, as seen by QSRs selling water, salads and apples. We’ll have a much different mix in the marketplace because consumers are demanding it.”
In January, Kraft began shifting ad dollars targeting kids six to 11 away from brands that don’t meet its “better-for-you” nutritional criteria (based on FDA data) to healthier products like sugar-free Kool-Aid and half-sugar cereal. Kraft will phase out kids’ advertising for non-compliant products worldwide by 2007. Foods that qualify as “sensible solutions” get the marketing dollars.
“That creates internal incentive for our staff to create products that appeal to kids and qualify for advertising for kids six to 11,” said Mark Berlind, Kraft’s executive VP-global corporate affairs, at the FTC workshop. “Those products have grown three to four times faster than non-qualified products in the past year.”
Kraft wants to launch more qualified products this year that have “the right combination of what kids want and some nutrition,” Berlind adds. “Doing that across our portfolio will help us win in the marketplace and impact people’s health.”
Simil arly, General Mills is extending its whole-grain recipes to bread, rolls and cereal bars after converting all its cereals to whole-grain this spring. Mills also put the USDA’s new food pyramid on 100 million cereal boxes, and its “Goodness Corner” icon uses FDA data to tout products as “A good source of [blank].”
In June, Mills broke a general ad campaign themed “Choose Breakfast.” Non-branded 10-second spots run with 20-second brand spots, but look like a separate message. Mills launched re-sealable bags of Pillsbury-branded biscuits after women in focus groups said “they love popping a can of biscuits, but there are too many in that package,” says Kendall Powell, General Mills executive VP-COO of U.S. Retail. “Who’d have thought five years ago that we could sell biscuits two at a time? People really want smaller portion sizes.”
Meanwhile, Mills has spent $6 million since 2002 on grants for grassroots fitness programs (chosen by the American Dietetic Association).
This fall Coca-Cola launches Live It!, a reported $4 million in-school fitness program for sixth graders that Coke tested this spring. The campaign features athletes Lance Armstrong; Bobby Labonte and Kyle Petty (NASCAR); Tamika Catchings, Lisa Leslie and Diana Taurasi (all WNBA); NHRA stock motorcycle champ Angelle Sampey; and San Diego firefighter Piper Denlinger.
Schools get a video of Armstrong introducing the program, and posters of the athletes giving exercise and nutrition tips. Two million students will get Stepometers to track their daily steps (10,000 is the goal) and cards with nutrition tips. Coke designed Live It! with The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the School Nutrition Association and the National Association for Sport & Physical Education. Live It! builds on Coke’s Step With It! program (1 million kids and counting).
Coke also will run an advertorial, “Lowdown on Lowcal Sweeteners,” in Seventeen Magazine and maybe a Spanish-language magazine this fall, modeled on its “Wellness Beverage Guide” that ran in Oprah and Good Housekeeping earlier this year.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s last month launched Passport to Play, a physical-education curriculum for grades 3-5, in 31,000 schools nationally. Phys ed teachers get a kit with games from around the world, and information about each country; students get passports that are stamped when they play a game from another country. “It’s social studies meets P.E.,” says McDonald’s spokesperson Heather Oldani. McDonald’s worked with Kaleidescope Education Support Group, Charleston, SC, to create the curriculum.
Live events in 48 markets bring Ronald McDonald and local Olympic athletes to conduct the program in person in two schools per market. GMR Marketing, New Berlin, WI, handles that tour, running Sept. 13 through Oct. 7.
McDonald’s also expands its in-school performance program with a half-hour live show, “Go Active with Ronald McDonald.” In the skit, Ronald asks kids in the audience to help get his friend off the couch to play. Franchisees can bring the show to local schools and community centers or their own restaurants; the show tested in five cities in spring. Franchisees also can stage “Get Moving with Ronald McDonald,” which bowed last year. McDonald’s also is releasing two Ronald videos worldwide, the first in a series of videos encouraging kids to keep their bodies, minds and imaginations active.
“Often, schools approach us first because they’re strapped for resources,” said Michael Donahue, McDonald’s VP-U.S. communications and customer satisfaction, at the FTC workshop. “So we design programs — some non-branded — for physical education.”
Only 24% of meals are eaten out of home, and McDonald’s accounts for 2% of U.S. meals, Donahue says, but that “doesn’t abdicate us from our responsibility” to market wisely.
Pepsico plans to have 70% of the products it launches by 2008 meet internal better-for-you standards. “Our spin is to make it fun, easier and more convenient to be healthy,” says Brock Leach, Pepsico senior VP-new growth platforms and chief innovation officer, at the FTC workshop. Pepsico also is moving to portion-control packaging and will leverage its year-old Smart Spot icon that denotes healthier products. Pepsico is encouraging schools to vend Smart Spot items, and “the majority of our kids’ media will be for Smart Spot products,” Leach says.
Smart Spot products accounted for 30% of Pepsico’s portfolio in the first half of 2005, and their sales rose 10% in the six months since the icon was launched. “Moms in focus groups told us they want to send their family [shopping] to find the green dot,” Leach says. “Their message is, ‘Help me feel like I can start doing something productive and make it real, not a diet fad.’”
Pepsico also is developing a “Five Smart Steps” message to incorporate in its marketing: eat breakfast; have enough fruits and veggies; stay hydrated; look for low-cal options; and move more.
“Talking to people about nutrition facts is a flat liner. Talking about how a product makes them feel better and gives them more energy goes a long way,” Leach says.
Kellogg sponsored two athletic promos over the summer, hosting family-friendly Tiger Power Triathlon (think Tony the Tiger) at zoos in Fort Worth, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with partner Parenting Magazine. Kids ran an obstacle course (the Protein Pedal, Calcium Climb & Crawl, Balanced Breakfast Beam) to earn a medal; Kellogg also gave samples of Tiger Power cereal and “Get in Step” activity kits. A separate, three-year sponsorship of non-profit Girls on the Run targets girls eight-11 with the “Frosted Flakes Earn Your Stripes” after-school self-esteem program, with running games, workouts and a 5K race.
Other marketers are pushing physical activity, too. Nickelodeon Networks is lending its characters to the 5 A Day program, putting SpongeBob SquarePants on spinach and Blues Clues on fruit via the Produce for Better Health Foundation. Nick worked for a year to broker a licensing deal for healthful foods, says Marva Smalls, Nick’s executive VP-public affairs and chief of staff. Plus, Nick donates 10% of its airtime to health and wellness messages. The network broke a PSA campaign in July encouraging kids to eat a healthy breakfast.
Nick also will double its Let’s Just Play grant program to $1.5 million and is pushing marketing partners to match that, for a total of $3 million. That’s a big jump from the $600,000 that Nick gave last year in grants to grassroots programs.
Home Depot will spend $25 million (and 1 million volunteer hours from Home Depot staffers) over three years to help non-profit Kaboom rebuild 1,000 playgrounds in 1,000 days — a leap beyond the 275 playgrounds and five athletic fields that Home Depot has helped build since it began sponsoring Kaboom in 1996.
Vending, especially in schools, has come under heavy scrutiny. California will ban soft drink sales in high schools by 2009. In August, beverage marketers adopted school vending guidelines that ban full-calorie soft drinks and juice drinks in middle schools during school hours; high schools still get soft drinks, but only as half the selection, with water, juice and sports drinks as the other half. Grade schools get water and 100% juice under guidelines from the American Beverage Association, whose board represents 20 companies that handle 85% of school vending sales.
Early this year, in-school vending got a rating system (red stickers for junk food, green for healthier items) from the National Automatic Merchandising Association.
What consumers want
Consumers aren’t really clamoring for food marketing reform (see charts). Parents feel they have the biggest responsibility for kids’ eating habits, and don’t think promotions — such as toys with fast-food meals, or in cereal boxes — contribute to kids’ obesity: Nearly 75% say food brands should be allowed to give away toys with restaurant meals and in food packages, according to AcuPOLL’s August survey of 107 women (about half with kids under 17).
Still, consumer advocates are asking marketers to help make healthy foods appealing.
“Getting kids to eat a healthy diet would be much easier if parents didn’t have to contend with billions of dollars of marketing for food, mostly of poor nutritional quality. I can’t get Shrek to come to my house for dinner and encourage my daughter to eat her zucchini,” says Margo Wootan, director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Kids don’t really understand the connection between weight and health, argues Ad Council’s Heidi Arthur: “They see ‘healthy’ as being not sick, and think the consequence of overeating is to explode or throw up, not to get diabetes.”
Kellogg’s CMO Alan Harris concurs: “We have to strike the right balance of taste and fun. If we don’t make it fun for kids, it won’t come out of the cupboard. And foods that stay in the cupboard don’t make for healthy kids.”
On-pack icons like Pepsico’s smart spot sit well with consumers — especially ethnic and lower-income families.
Having too many symbols could become confusing — especially with different criteria — but a single icon system is unlikely to work. U.K. legislators “are considering a one-size-fits-all traffic light system, which sounds fine in theory but is very hard to implement because there are so many different products and consumers,” Harris says.
Pepsico also tested a stoplight concept but “consumers hate warning signals on products,” Leach says. “They tell us, ‘Don’t make me feel guilty about it.’”
Still, U.S. marketers need a consistent approach to kids’ marketing. “It’s nice that SpongeBob is selling spinach, but when the movie came out, there was all this additional [licensed] SpongeBob junk food, and that’s what the kids wanted,” says Susan Linn, associate director of the Media Center at Judge Baker Children’s Center and Harvard Medical School. “McDonald’s is selling salads at exactly the same time it has rap singers shout out ‘Big Mac’ during their songs. We need to consider all of a company’s policies.”