Children don't get to decide what they eat, yet they get marketed to as if they control the purse strings. So forces have been at work for a long time to not market unhealthy food to children.
The attacks have focused on the negative, getting rid of the bad advertising. But what if those cartoon characters shifted their focus to vegetables instead of junk food. Meet some of the Super Sprowtz.
- Colby Carrot, a joker with super sight
- Zach Zucchini, a fast-swimming surfer dude
- Suzy Sweetpea, a friendly eager beaver
- Brian Broccoli, who is super strong
The 6-week experiment in 10 U.S. elementary schools included vinyl banners, TV spots, and a combination of both tactics. In the schools with the banners, the percentage of students that took vegetables climbed from 12.6% to 24%. The banners combined with the videos increased the vegetables taking from 10.2% to 34.6%.
The ideal for a lot of these parents would be more of this kind of cartoon characters promoting healthy food and a complete ban of the kind that promote junk food. A nice second option is to have both options exist side-by-side; this is also a more realistic option. The push for parents has been to not market to kids, a noble request. But we haven't seen that same push from parents to promote vegetables.
While children are impressionable and focus should be applied to them, adults are impressionable as well though to a lesser extent. We don't market vegetables to adults much less to children. People can recite potato chips and soda pop ads to you blindfolded, but they are likely walking past the section in the grocery store with green and orange and yellow and red that aren't wrapped in plastic or in a box.
Adults might not swayed by vegetable superheroes but they do need some help in the promotion of vegetables. People go to see movies that involve superheroes from Iron Man to Batman v. Superman, so adults do have the potential to be influenced by superheroes.
Those forces to ban junk food marketing to kids has been largely unsuccessful. One exception has been the province of Quebec in Canada, but in Quebec, the vast majority of the media is in the French language. Apparently, Tony the Tiger can't parlez-vous Francaise.
Seriously, Quebec laws are rather strong for children under the age of 13. The laws cover all forms of media, and laws also deal with in-school advertising.
The laws are limited to the province, so cable signals from Toronto and the United States can still advertise to kids. In Quebec, the more French language programming you watch, the less likely you are to be exposed to junk food ads.
The 3 areas with strong laws are Norway, Sweden, and Quebec. Their attitudes and approaches are so different from the United States, especially when children are involved. The U.S. system can't seem to introduce basic regulations of advertising for kids or adults. Some regulations would be a great start.
The Canadian Senate report earlier this year wants to extend the Quebec ban nationwide in Canada. That would add about 30 million people to the rolls. Unlike the 3 strong areas, English Canadians receive the lion's share of media from a neighboring country that is very lax in regulation. If a ban across English Canada can work, a ban can work anywhere in the world.
Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott's office told CBC News that the federal government will introduce new restrictions on commercial marketing.
The United States and Canada are extreme cases since junk food is heavily subsidized. The U.S. laws in place make high-fructose corn syrup artificially cheap and NAFTA helped push glucose-fructose (what Canadians call high-fructose corn syrup) in the country. Canadians pay way more for food than those in the United States, and people in both countries complain about the high costs of food.
In that climate, positive advertising for vegetables may be the best we can hope for in the marketplace.
photo credit: Super Sprowtz