Maybe I’m simply jaded at this point, but when I read about Disney’s plan to banish junk food ads on many of its media outlets, my first thought was, “How are they going to technically hold to their new self-imposed rules while still getting the advertisers’ dollars?” It really does seem too good to be true, doesn’t it?
“Sure,” I thought, “They might not have commercials for sugary soda anymore, but just wait. The stars of their tween sitcoms will start drinking a brand-name cola non-stop.” But, it looks like that won’t be happening. All “food and beverage products that are advertised, promoted or sponsored” on Disney’s TV channels, radio station, websites and even kids' programming on ABC (which is owned by Disney) will have to meet the “company’s nutrition data for limiting calories and reducing fat, sodium, and sugar.” That sounds all-inclusive — no tween stars downing a brand-name cola while out to dinner on a TV show.
I’m surprised. Advertising dollars are king when it comes to children’s programming. The processed and packaged food industry loves Disney's captive kid audience and pays big bucks to get their attention. I believe this so wholeheartedly that when my boys were younger, we got rid of commercial television to keep them away from the influence of advertising. The facts in the book “Affluenza” had convinced me that marketers are not just trying to sell to our children; they’re trying to subvert parental authority.
It was a few paragraphs in the book about a marketing conference — held, ironically enough, at Disney World and where the keynote address was titled “Softening the Parental Veto” — that convinced me I needed to keep my children away from marketing aimed at kids. And not just food marketing, but all marketing. The strategy portrays parents in ads as not being “smart enough to realize their children’s need for the product being sold.” That strategy was proven to neutralize “parental influence in the marketer/child relationship.”
This is always in my mind when I see advertising aimed at children. It’s not surprising that I was skeptical when I first heard Disney was going to ban ads for junk food, something that marketers try their best to convince children they deserve. After reading the details, however, I’m willing to say I’m cautiously optimistic.
Why cautiously? The company’s Nutrition Guideline Criteria are very specific, so I was able to do some quick research. The guidelines say specifically, for instance, that breakfast cereals must have 10 grams of sugar or less and 130 calories or less per serving. Both Lucky Charms and Peanut Butter Captain Crunch seem to meet the company’s nutrition guidelines if I’m reading it correctly. It does look like sodas and juice-flavored drinks with added sugars would be banned, though.
Disney has left itself some wiggle room when it comes to time, too. The company has until 2015 to completely implement the ban. And, I suppose it’s that jaded part of me that’s wondering if that’s to give some of the junk food manufacturers a chance to reformulate some of their foods to meet the new criteria.
So for now, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic. I'll wait until 2015 to see if Disney’s advertising aimed at children really does change.
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