FTC Subpoenas 44 Food Companies That Target Kids

The FTC has issued subpoenas to 44 food and beverage companies that market to kids, including Burger King, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Kraft. The companies are being called on to disclose how much they spend on their marketing campaigns to kids, as well as “specific information about their marketing practices,” by November 1st of this year.

According to Adweek, most of the big companies that were subpoenaed were expecting it, and “had already taken steps they said would foster more responsible marketing to kids.” This includes Kellog’s announcement in June that it would stop marketing unhealthy foods to kids 12 and under, and last month’s joint announcement from 11 companies that they will stop showing ads for junk food on children’s shows (although this “commitment” turned out to be pure PR spin upon closer examination).

FTC Issues Subpoenas to Food Marketers [Adweek]

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. ptkdude says:

    It’ll be tough, but I’m sure they can get all that stuff shredded by November 1st.

  2. WebUrbanist says:

    It’s about time. Marketing junk food to kids is on par with selling them cigaerettes

  3. SaveMeJeebus says:

    Well, when in doubt they can either:
    A.) Shred documents
    B.) Make portion sizes ridiculously small to lower fat/sugar/calories
    C.) Actually do the right thing (Ha!)

    I highly doubt the marketing depts of these companies are full of dut-duh-duts that will just say “oh well, making kids fat was fun while it lasted.”

  4. urban_ninjya says:

    IMO, marketing food to kids isn’t any more wrong than marketing toys to kids. Which isn’t any more wrong than marketing clothes to women. Which isn’t any more wrong than marketing cars to men.

    Why differentiate if it’s food?

  5. nursetim says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but aren’t the parents the ones that end up buying this stuff? As a parent myself, no matter how much my kids want something they see, I have the last word. These companies can market all they want, but the parents are the ones that are responsible for what the kids eat. Maybe I’m just missing something.

  6. BrockBrockman says:

    Yes – and why don’t we end controls on the marketing of cigarettes and alcohol to kids – after all, it’s all about parent controlling what their kids consume.

    And, I didn’t think a CEO could be made to look any more evil than they are. Until now. Thanks for the nightmare. I miss the kitten photos.

  7. yahonza says:

    Oh, so food = alcohol or tobacco?

    Sorry, I think the government has more pressing business.

  8. BrockBrockman says:

    Yes, food = alcohol or tobacco. That’s exactly what I meant. Genius

    Let’s see what’s hurting more kids these days … alcoholism, lung cancer, or diabetes? Nasty hangovers, emphysema, or obesity? We can regulate alcohol & tobacco marketing when it comes to kids, but not the junk food that hurts kids the most.

  9. HungryGrrl says:

    @BrockBrockman:

    Hopefully, soon the government will make ALL our decisions for us!

  10. ColdNorth says:

    This is not an issue of personal responsibility. The marketing is directed at minors, who are ipso facto not responsible for their actions.

    Given the fact that not all parents are paragons of responsibility and given the fact that children have ample opportunity to purchase ALL of these items on their own, perfectly legally and absent parental supervision, this is an excellent example of where government regulation is appropriate.

    Junk food is easily as harmful as alcohol or tobacco when abused. It is also a habit that is formed early in one’s life, just like tobacco use.

    I am a big believer in personal responsibility, but I also believe that there are proper circumstances for regulation. In my mind, this is one of them.

    Alas… I fear that this is also the bell that will get those class-action law firms positively slavering at the maw.

  11. yahonza says:

    Class action lawsuits are just one of the problems with this particular brand of nannyism.

    Well, this “genius” can see that alcohol and tobacco are completely banned for minors. What are you proposing congress ban? Sugar? Fat? Cholesterol?

    If you really think that congress trying to regulate junk food for minors is the equivalent to banning alcohol or tobacco for minors, you just haven’t thought this one through.

    Do you really think that congress could ignore junk food for decades and decades then suddenly get on a moral high horse to try to save the kids from the evil of junk food? NO, some rent seeker is trying to use congress to make a tidy profit.

    And isn’t sarcastically calling someone a “genius” the kind of name calling that is discouraged here? I’m just asking.

  12. SJActress says:

    @yahonza:

    Um, well Congress ignored tobacco for decades and decades, and then once they looked at studies and realized it was REALLY BAD for you, they took control. The same thing happened with junk food. So I guess THAT argument is out the window, hm?

    Alcohol is only legal because it just doesn’t kill enough people (DUI asshats do, but that’s drinking AND driving. Just drinking is not nearly as big a killer as lung/heart disease or Type II Diabetes).

  13. yahonza says:

    You seem to have completely missed my point. Alcohol and tobacco are relatively easy to identify. Its not like you need some form of tobacco and alcohol to survive. But we are talking food. And really, we are talking about advertising food.

    So congress is going to be able to determine the proper amount of sugar, fat and sodium that can be in food that is advertised to children? I think that is ridiculous.

  14. Skeptic says:

    MO, marketing food to kids isn’t any more wrong than marketing toys to kids

    Well, buying toys doesn’t make kids fat for life.

    You develop your tastes and eating habits as a child. A recent study showed that children 3-5 think that food marked McDonald’s taste’s better than identical food not so marked. Advertising junk food to children is bad for their health and bad for society. There is no public interest that is served by advertising junk food to children.

    Oh, and there is no reason to assume that advertising toys to kids isn’t wrong, too. Young children literally can’t tell the difference between ads and programing. Studies back this up. Advertising to kids is like the snake convincing Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Neither the kids nor Eve had a chance (Eve was ignorant by God’s will; without knowledge of good and evil she had no chance to suspect the snake’s lies. Children are in the same boat. They can’t tell ads from shows. They don’t know they are being manipulated and sold to.)

  15. Skeptic says:

    Y HUNGRYGRRL AT 08/10/07 09:12 PM

    @BrockBrockman:

    Hopefully, soon the government will make ALL our decisions for us!

    You and your kids are still completely free to eat junk food.

    Stopping corporations from directly advertising and manipulating the malleable minds of children doesn’t prevent you from making your own decisions in any way, shape or form. Quite the opposite, in fact. With your child’s mind left un manipulated by corporations you will have an easier time getting your child to eat the food **you** decide they should have and less time fighting their demands for advertised junk food. Remember, the advertising is so powerful that 3-5 year-olds literally think the food tastes better if it says McDonalds. They aren’t demanding the food arbitrarily, they have literally been programed by McDonalds to find the food to be better tasting than **identical** food not labeled McDonalds.

    Why anyone would want McDonalds to advertise to their children and fight for McDonalds right to do so is way, way beyond me. There is no reason why you would want that for your children.

  16. strangeray says:

    It seems like this is a step towards just giving the government more regulation power because parents are too lazy to raise their children. Sure, junk food is bad–so don’t let your kids eat it. Government intervention in private business is overkill, though.

  17. ColdNorth says:

    @yahonza:

    The regulation I am discussing is only that companies should be held accountable for is this particular type of advertising directed at minors, willful manipulation of nutrition information to skirt their own “good faith” initiatives and the like. I certainly never suggested that a child should be carded for trying to purchase a soda, a can of Chunky Beef Stew or a candy bar.

    Upon reading the article, I simply agreed with the premise that the manufacturers bear responsibility for profiteering against children’s susceptibility to advertising and lack of consumer experience.

    If they want to produce some snack loaded with sugar and label it as a “fat free snack”, that’s up to them. The adults who buy this as a healthy snack should know better. But when they promote a high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt product and call it a “Lunchable”, slotting right next to the lunch meats in the supermarket case, then perhaps they’ve crossed the line?

    Now onto your other point: If you feel the only way to bolster your argument is by tossing out a word like “genius” (even placing it in quotes, no less! As if someone might possibly mistake your intended use of the word!), then by all means, please do.

    Surely, the ad hominem attack is the very cornerstone of a good debate.

  18. mopar_man says:

    @nursetim:

    I agree with you 100%. Again it’s shitty parents wanting to push the blame on someone else for their fat kids. Who’s next? Video game manufacturers?

  19. dbeahn says:

    @BrockBrockman: See, here’s the thing. I don’t have kids, but I have friends that have kids, some are good parents, some aren’t. The ones I feel for are the ones that are GOOD parents. It’s clearly hard enough to be a parent, without what amounts to psychological warfare that’s being waged against children in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Seriously, you see parents in the grocery store, saying “No, you can’t have that because it’s bad for you”, but you KNOW that kid has seen commercials (go on, someone tell me that if a kid sees a commercial then it must be “bad parent”) that leaves the kid feeling that if they don’t get Super Sugar CoCo Bams then it’s because mommy and daddy don’t love them.

    Marketing is not “free speech” and doesn’t deserve to be protected. The techniques being used were developed for psych warfare and propoganda purposes.

    It’s high time we demanded that companies compete on the basis of having *good products* rather than great marketing.

  20. joe6486 says:

    Disgusting. It’s none of the governments damn business how much they spend on advertising to kids. Parents can easily educate their children on proper eating habits, and if they don’t, shame on them. Responsibility is with the parents, here, not the government.

  21. hustler says:

    Here’s an idea. If you want your kids to not be fat-ass blobs of lard, don’t buy the bullshit marketted to them? God damn, parents are pussies.

    I wish I held my parents hostage as a child.

  22. TMurphy says:

    I don’t know how that study about kids liking McDonalds carrots more says much about marketing unless they had a control group. Even if a kid doesn’t see commercials, they would still be aware that McDonalds has tasty food, and that it is a treat to go there. With or without marketing, if they have had McDonalds, they probably expect their food to taste better.

    And for the issue of banning the marketing, I don’t see this as a good idea. Junk food is not as bad as cigarettes or alcohol, as unlike the drugs it doesn’t hurt you simply through consumption. Junk food only hurts you if you aren’t active enough to burn it off. Sure, you can stop McD’s from advertising, but when your kid that has never had an opportunity to learn to say “no”, I don’t think they have a very good chance of saying no if they are offered drugs.

  23. dbeahn says:

    @hustler: Then by your logic, shouldn’t we just make it legal to market and sell beer, smokes, guns, ammo, explosive etc etc to children? Or are you too big a pussy to deal with the idea of the kids in your neighborhood having that stuff?

  24. TMurphy says:

    …Before someone argues they did have controls set up (they found preference correlates with number of TV’s in their homes and number of times they ate at McDonalds), both of those details don’t work as controls as to whether it is the marketing. The kids who watch a lot of TV probably have the parents who don’t want to cook and instead offer McD’s.

  25. Trai_Dep says:

    Kids aren’t minature adults. They process things differently. Any good marketer knows this. That’s why there have to be special rules for advertising to kids.

  26. andrewsmash says:

    Wow, what a flametastic conversation. I don’t understand what the problem is. The government has regulated advertising for decades, this is nothing new. As for what should or shouldn’t be advertised, if you look at the the countries that outlaw advertising directly to children, those kids do better in school and are healthier, mainly because they don’t confuse shiny, well-marketed crap with real food. If you really are against government intervention in advertising, then imagine seeing this while sucking down your morning coffee: a viagra ad with a few naked 20 year olds surrounding an old guy with a stiffy.

  27. chatterboxwriting says:

    @nursetim: You beat me to it. Unless a 5 year-old has her own disposable income, marketing to her doesn’t do much good unless the parents actually buy whatever crap is being marketed.

  28. Tricon says:

    @dbeahn: I kind of want Super Sugar CoCo Bams to exist, now

  29. BrockBrockman says:

    @Tricon: I’m on it. Expect the first shipment from China in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be sure to use Hershey’s dark chocolate to offset anything bad that might slip into the box.

  30. SaraAB87 says:

    I am all for this, this is the real world and in the real world not everyone is perfect or has time to make sure that their kids are free of all advertising. Chances are great that if you have a kid, they have seen some type of advertising for junk food and then want it, its just the way it works, as proved by the McDonalds study where a kid thinks something wrapped in a McDonalds wrapper tastes better even if it is the same exact food. Not everyone can leave the kids at home when grocery shopping, and anything that makes it easier for parents with toddler-aged or even older children to grocery shop in a healthy manner without the screaming and whining for junk food product x because it has Dora the Explorer branded all over it I am all for.

    Marketing of toys doesn’t seem as bad because you can always say no to a toy because its not like kids need to have the toy. Food is much more controversial because its food, and kids have to eat something. If the kid is programmed at an early age to eat McDonalds and nothing but McDonalds for example this could be a very difficult situation for a parent. It is the parents responsibility to teach healthy eating but this would be much easier if not every box of unhealthy food in the grocery store was covered with your childrens favorite characters!

    One of my family members (and mind you this was about 30-40 years ago), as a kid would ONLY eat Mcdonalds hamburgers, they tried everything, but regardless he had to have at least one Mcdonalds hamburger a day. This goes to show you how powerful food advertising can be on a kid even many years ago.

  31. Firstborn Dragon says:

    Okay, I hardly watch TV but really the ads are just begging kids to nag their parents for this.

    Seriously some of these ads talk about winning prizes if you eat the cerial. Or look at the ones with the sports players. Buy frosted flakes, play with a tiger. Eat lucky charms, do magic. Eat these fruit candies and turn into a watermelon headed thing.

  32. ndavies says:

    @ColdNorth: Your argument is based on denying the inability of both kids (which is an ambiguous term–up to 18?) and parents to make their own decisions. Alcohol and tobacco have been regulated, so it makes perfect sense that they shouldn’t be marketed to minors. If you don’t want them buying junk food, require McD’s to card.

    Parents can not only make the decisions about what their children eat or buy, but they can screen out these ads themselves. We have the low-tech solution of turning off the TV(gasp), or the high-tech one of Tivo-ing their shows and skipping the commercials.

    If you want the government to enforce healthier food standards, the place to start would be in the lunchroom, where public education is already responsible for feeding most kids once a day.

    Lastly, if we rid the airwaves of all ads targeted to kids, how are they going to spend responsibly when they grow up, and suddenly everything appeals to them? How do people ever make responsible decisions if you don’t give them the power to decide?

  33. synergy says:

    I wonder if the FTC will want disclosure on ALL media efforts. That includes the internet. I’m sure they’re willing to abandon t.v. for the internet and are hoping no one will asking them what they’re advertising there.

  34. jscott73 says:

    I am always amused that within the first 5 comments on a story like this someone uses the term “parental responsibility”. Parental responsibility is a smoke screen corporation hide behind to justify their actions.
    If it’s the parents responsibility to choose the food their kids eat WHY MARKET TO CHILDREN? Why not have a Super Sugar CoCo Bams commercial on during Dateline? Because it wouldn’t work, and they know that.
    Also, why would we want corporations putting parents in the position of constanly saying no to food choices, parents already have enough “nos” to say, why make the relationship any more combatorial.
    I have a four year old, whenever she sees a commercial I ask her what it is trying to sell, shes getting pretty good at that, we don’t do fast-food and I ask her why the kids cereal boxes have cartoons and are low to the ground at the grocery store. I must constantly be vigilent in this endeavor, these types of laws would make it easier and free up some “parenting energy” for having fun and actually building a positive relationship with my daughter instead of teaching her how to deal with manipulative marketing.