It is probably little surprise that food marketing and advertising campaigns deliberately target children and teenagers with specialized and sometimes intense branding campaigns. The demographic is a bit of a captive audience and vulnerable to such messaging.
But the power of such labeling and product placement before young people can also have long-standing impact, and that is by design. Savvy marketers are interested in focusing on youth because of a combination of their purchasing influence, spending power and even more important, their habits as adult consumers. Hook a child early on a range of food products, unhealthy or otherwise, and chances are strong you have cultivated a consumer for life.
Today, the techniques to influence behavior through such labeling and branding extend far beyond the grocery store shelf. Television commercials are still a powerful forum but so too is advertising online, attached to movie promotion and on toys as hand-held branding campaigns. Typically, food marketed to kids is sky high in sugar and fat, which studies often cite as a contributing factor to high obesity rates in the United States. But well-placed custom labels can have a positive influence as well.
To get mom and dad — and the kids — into a store for any product they must be compelled to buy it and that still happens most prominently through television. It’s no coincidence then that more than 75 percent of food manufacturers’ advertising budgets are devoted to television while that number spikes to 95 percent for fast-food restaurants.
Television viewing starts younger all the time and is available on more and more screens. Estimates say kids ages 2 to 4 consume two hours of television daily and the number escalates to 3.5 hours by the end of grade school. Cognition to recognize advertising for what it is does not happen for most children until they are 8, studies show. What’s more, U.S. children can see up to 40,000 commercials per year while 11 of every 19 television ads focuses on food.
So the combination of effective labeling and the means to distribute that message is more potent than ever. For parents that means teaching kids the importance of moderation and healthy eating habits is more important than ever. For companies looking to brand products, the 21st century media explosion has been both dizzying — and good for business.