Study links 'tobacco tactics' with marketing unhealthy products to kids
- A recent study from researchers at the University of California San Francisco found R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris applied their knowledge about the tobacco industry, from marketing to product development, to increase sales of sugary drinks after acquiring food and beverage companies.
- According to Food Ingredients First, the study used "secret documents" from the two tobacco giants and marketing campaigns from their beverage brands, including Hawaiian Punch, Tang, Kool-Aid and Capri Sun, and Tang. The tobacco companies later sold these brands to Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Mondelez International and Kraft Heinz, respectively.
- The researchers say the findings show that many food and beverage companies today still use similar tactics despite signing the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. CFBAI participants agree to comply with nutritional standards in food advertising directed at children younger than 12, including reducing sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
While consumers have driven the growth of the better-for-you trend and pushed food and beverage companies to create healthier products, this research implies that these businesses are still taking aim at one of the more impressionable segments: children.
Unlike adults, kids are typically more susceptible to bright colors, cartoon characters and visually appealing logos. These characteristics make them an easy target for advertisers, who spend more than $12 billion annually to reach that target demographic, using tactics like deliberately placing certain products at their eye level on store shelves.
While the platforms may have changed over time, marketing hasn't shifted dramatically, whether on TV or online ads. As the study shows, sweet cereals, sodas and other similar products often still target children even after the CFBAI pledge. The researchers found it to be such an issue that they took a strong stance for beefing up regulation of children's advertising.
"Public health advocates and consumers should put pressure on food corporations to not market unhealthy food and drinks to young children and similarly, to urge legislators to regulate advertising and marketing to children," lead author Kim Nguyen told Food Ingredients First.
Other researchers have previously made similar statements. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut released a study in 2017 noting that despite progress from food and beverage companies to encourage healthy eating in their advertising, more progress still needs to be made. Marketing from manufacturers that did not sign the pledge offset some of the gains made by those who did, they said.
Companies like General Mills and Mars have adopted policies against advertising foods and beverages in schools or via programs or other media designed for very young children. Others, including Chobani, Kind, Rx and Frito-Lay, have been innovating with healthier products targeted to children.
On the other hand, Dr Pepper Snapple, which now owns Hawaiian Punch, continues marketing its drink with "Punchy" the mascot, which has a similar cartoon feel as "Joe Camel." A Reynolds employee magazine cited by the University of California study noted Punchy was the "best salesman the beverage has ever had."
The shift from independently regulated advertising like the CFBAI pledge to greater government regulation would be a big one for food and beverage companies. For now, however, the talk of greater regulation has primarily been relegated to calls by researchers and advocacy groups.