While visiting my parents many years ago, we came across some of the boxes of memorabilia that my brother left behind when he moved out. He was a big Michael Jordan fan and had bobble heads, Sports Illustrated magazines and posters with the famous face on the cover. He also had boxes of empty Wheaties cereal because they had Mike on the box. I doubt he really liked the cereal but he ate a bunch of it back in the day.
To be like Mike.
This study out of the University of Liverpool demonstrates, for the first time, the extent and impact of celebrity endorsements on kid’s food choices. Since the days of Don Draper, marketers have known that the influence of celebrities on consumer behavior is significant and have leveraged the likes of Jordan, Beyonce, Spongebob and many others on everything from cereal and soda to perfume and shoes with one purpose: to sell more stuff.
What is significant about this study is that, let’s say we know that Beyonce sponsors Pepsi and we watch her latest music video or see her perform at the Super Bowl, both situations where no soda is seen or mentioned, we still want to drink a Pepsi. The affinity and influence impact is as great as marketers have hoped but hadn’t proved before. And, therefore, worth those big contracts they offer for celebrity endorsements.
The problem is that children are highly susceptible, easily influenced and haven’t developed the ability to sort through marketing messages in order to make smart, informed decisions. Food manufacturers are hoping that adults can’t do this well either – just look at all the “better for you” messages in the grocery store.
If you haven’t watched Saturday morning cartoons in a while, tune in this weekend to catch a glimpse of the messages being sent to our youngest consumers. Advertising junk food to children is real and happens every day in our country. You can’t escape it by turning off the TV. It’s at restaurants, in schools, at the library and in the grocery store.
And it’s powerful. The government knows this and has tried to put measures in place but they’re not strict enough. They don’t cover things like a tween pop star promoting soda. That leaves us with Saturday morning cartoons advertising junk food for kids.
These advertisements put parents in a difficult position. One where we have to either be the bad guy and say no to our pleading child. Or we give in to their begging in order to avoid a five alarm meltdown. Personally, I don’t want to be in either position and I certainly don’t want a cartoon character putting me there.
What is a parent to do?
Talk to your children. Let them know that Spongebob doesn’t really eat the brightly colored yogurt with Red #40 and Blue #1. As adults we know that the supermodel doesn’t use the drugstore makeup and do-it-yourself hair color, so let’s teach our children the same life lessons.
In our home, I also watch those cartoons with my children as much as possible so that we can talk about the advertising right then and there. Not at the store. No whining allowed. Just straight up facts.
If you’re really fired up about the junk food advertised to kids, with or without celebrity endorsement, sign this petition to ask Nickelodeon to support parents and the health of our children by pulling the plug on junk food ads like Disney has.