Aug. 17, 2016 Update Bravo to Britain, showcasing athletes sponsored by healthy food instead of junk!See? Sponsorship doesn’t have to be the domain of the duplicitous duo of junk food advertisers, Coke and McDonalds!Yep, they’re sucking up global mindshare yet again…This time targeting Latinos with duplicitous fervor, using emotional hooks parlayed into social media’s #ThatsGold hashtag.As this excellent Guardian post points out with World Obesity Federation Tim Lobstein’s quote, “Child obesity is rising rapidly in developing economies and the LAST thing the children need are inducements to consume more junk food…“The Olympic Games should be a beacon of human progress and ability, not a place where poor nutrition is given a halo of gold.”
As parents and health educators wince, Coke and McDonalds pervasively proliferate the Olympic games AGAIN, this time McDonalds is getting a huge boost of unhealthy eating messages served up via the athletes themselves. FREE junk food for athletes in the Olympic Village prompts massive social media photo ops to tap into the persuasive behavioral neuroscience of “aspirational” marketing targeting kids…What a raw, manipulative power play, using athletes as pawns and shills as if this were a normal training table ‘moderation’ message. Ugh.
Meanwhile, Coke has turned ‘feel good’ moments of irresistible underdog storytelling into “engagement” pleas for youth to share their own #ThatsGold moments (as they slurp up the sugary soda obesity cues in the process)…
In hipster slang vernacular, “No bueno…” Aside from being called out as participatory and complicit in amping up the sugary crisis multiple times on many continents, it’s unconscionable and ethically bankrupt to purposely set out to make a bad problem worse, profiting at the expense of public health. Short term fiscal gold for the corporations, but fool’s gold in diabetes and disease control.
No points. No celebration. No one wins.
Marketingland claims McDonalds ‘won the top spot’ for Super Bowl tweets at 634, 310 but they lost big with parents; as many of those tweets were no doubt eyerolling incredulity, since sales stats show a fumble among multiple audiences, including youth and media outlets themselves who are simply ‘not buying it.’
In today’s guest post, U.S. Healthy Kids.org blogger Casey Hinds shares more data on the problematic disconnect with unhealthy products tapping into “happier/healthier” messages without changing their game of heavy duty food marketing and unethical conduct targeting kids.
Parents are sick and tired of companies undermining their efforts to raise kids to be neither.
In fact, there seems to be a ‘happiness’ backlash from critical thinking crusaders ready and willing to call out the discordance of multinational junk food firms spreading unhealthy global products while purporting to be doing public good…
Gawker’s hacker style Banksy-esque bot prank turned Coke’s tech gimmick for cute picture creations into a Mein Kampf recitation, (USA Today just picked up the story, “Have a Coke and a frown”) and Wall Street Journal’s opinion column by Kate Bachelder blasted the notion of dancing with strangers to ‘show some love’ and be turned into human branding billboards, so it’s readily apparent that junk food purveyors are working harder but not necessarily smarter to earn public good will.
Whether it’s the irony of the United Health Care building draped as a 27-story Pepsi Half Time Ad as Ninjas for Health notes in “7 Unhealthiest Super Bowl Ads” or the repeat raunch offender of Carl’s Jr’s toxic “meat marketing” sexualization eroding kids’ psyches, parents have collectively reached a tipping point that’s finally showing up with a great big whack in the assets for junk food purveyors who don’t respect boundaries.
Media literacy can remind millennials Coke is targeting them via ‘sharing’ tactics and participatory antics, but Gen Z youth are our future workforce too, and mining their childhood with junk food proliferation makes parents feel “in the trenches” dodging mortar fire from “big food” behemoths.
These days, unhealthy food purveyors push their products with subversive new levels of emotional persuasion, backed by neuroscience and research, it’s no wonder many parents feel they’re in a wellness war for their own children’s hearts and minds. It’s high time we call a truce in the name of public health to put policy over profit and stop placing our nation’s children in the crosshairs of ever-escalating body battles.
Parents Call Foul on Super Bowl Junk Food Ads
Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are two companies with slipping sales that were looking for Super Bowl advertising wins on Sunday in order to turn things around. Both companies aggressively market products that are harmful to health and use sports as a way to healthwash soda and fast food.
They use a polar bear and a clown to tell kids soda is happiness and fast food is lovin’, but that strategy is now backfiring as customers are dropping these iconic brands.
The Motley Fool’s Jamal Carnette described their new ad campaigns in light of falling sales this way:
“Led by McDonald‘s (NYSE: MCD) new ‘lovin’ beats hatin” campaign and now Coca-Cola‘s (NYSE: KO ) upcoming ‘Make it Happy’ spots — which promotes positivity on the internet and in real life — TV viewers can expect a virtual lovefest going forward. “However, for these two companies, this advertising approach also has a shrouded message: ‘Ignore the negativity … especially when it comes to us.’”
McDonald’s woes have gotten so bad that its CEO Don Thompson announced his retirement on the Wednesday before the big game.
Christopher Muller, professor of hospitality at Boston University, commented on the challenge facing Thompson’s replacement, Steve Easterbrook, saying:
“The students in my classes don’t even think of going to McDonald’s. They’ve been taught not to go there since they were kids. His challenge is immense. He’s got a whole generation that wants nothing to do with McDonald’s.”
This reflects a growing sentiment among parents who are fed up with companies telling kids fast food is lovin’ and soda is happiness.
Smart companies get ahead of the consumer trends and there has been ample warning that marketing junk food to kids will no longer be tolerated by today’s parents.
The research from Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity shows how aggressively McDonald’s markets to children compared to its competitors. With that in mind, compare the stock of McDonalds (red) to Wendy’s (green) over last 6 months using this image from CNBC’sCarl Quintanilla:
What’s happening with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s sales should serve as a wake-up call to other companies that times have changed and parents will no longer tolerate kids being targets for junk food ads.
These concerns over marketing to children are expanding beyond just their health. In The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi recently wrote about ‘profitics’, the troubling combination of corporate power and politics:
“There has been a lot of talk about the need for schools to teach coding to children early on so as to better equip them for a digital world. But there has been less talk about the need to rethink how schools teach geography, politics, and citizenship in light of the growing sociopolitical influence of big business. Which is ironic because, while school curriculum largely ignores corporations, corporations are trying to insinuate themselves into curriculum.
IBM is opening high schools, Starbucks has partnered with Arizona State University, and McDonald’s has taught nutrition to elementary school kids and thrown McTeacher’s nights.
If we want to educate kids about corporations, rather than have corporations teach our kids, we need an educational paradigm shift. Basically, schools need to teach a class that helps kids understand business jargon (Corp BS™), navigate corporate cartography, and recognize that corporate governance has as much of an impact, if not more, as governments on their future.” —Arwa Mahdawi
These kinds of concerns are also reflected in a new report from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood called OUT OF BOUNDS: The NFL’s Intensive Campaign to Target Children. It details “how the league advertises to children online, on children’s television stations, in schools, and in partnership with trusted nonprofits and government agencies serving kids and families.”
The NFL’s junk food partners include McDonald’s, Pepsi, Frito Lay, and Mars who rely on these connections with professional football to healthwash their products.
The report also touches on the many adult problems the NFL brings into children’s lives by association including concussions, racial slurs, domestic violence, child abuse, gambling, and alcohol. The writing is on the wall as parents call foul on companies that put profit ahead of children’s health. CEOs would do well to recognize this trend and get ahead of the curve or they will soon find themselves out of the game, just like Don Thompson.
Casey Hinds works to make a healthier food environment for children and instill a love of physical activity.
Her wonderful post “Soda Wolves Disguised in Sheep’s Clothing” was also shared in this Shaping Youth article, “Now Pouring: Soda Pledges, Politics and Public Health.”
Recent & Related Reading by Amy Jussel on Shaping Youth
Amy Jussel’s Health + Media Literacy Tips for Critical Thinking About Food Marketing
(Video presented at NAMLE: National Media Literacy Educators Association)