Food Companies Have Figured Out How To Market To Kids: Smartphones, Duh

If you’re suddenly hearing things from your kids like, “Mommy, can I please have a [insert food item child has never, ever asked for before]?” just look at the piece of electronic gadgetry in your child’s hands. Food marketers have wised up to the fact that kids these days are getting smartphones younger and younger, and subsequently becoming glued to the devices early on. Ah, nothing like a captive audience to get your ad campaign across.

The U.S. government issued a report today saying that food companies are increasingly advertising to kids on mobile devices and through all the various social media sites as well. Despite that, companies are spending less on youth marketing in general, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Back in 2009, the Federal Trade Commission found that 48 food companies spent $1.79 billion on targeting kids between 2 to 17, with $122.5 million of that parceled out for new media. By comparison, in 2006 a group consisting of mostly those same companies spent $2.1 billion overall on marketing to kids but only $76.6 million for new media, says the FTC’s report.

“The encouraging news is that we’re seeing promising signs that food companies are reformulating their products and marketing more nutritious foods to kids, especially among companies participating in industry self-regulatory efforts,” wrote FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “But there is still room for improvement: We will look for continued progress by the food industry and greater participation by the entertainment industry.”

Things are likely even more smartphone-oriented now, as the study dates back to the beginning of the smartphone boom in 2009. That’s three long years of kids demanding their parents buy them the newest phone right now, I want it, I have to have it or I will hate you forever. Which is why your friend’s five-year-old may or may not have an email signature “sent fromm mi fone!”

Of course, advertising online isn’t usually as costly as say, physical displays of ads. But these are ads kids are taking with them everywhere they go, all the time, day or night. Pervasive, to say the least.

One bright spot in the report comes where the FTC notes that at least if the food industry is getting more savvy about selling kids stuff, it’s at least leaning toward marketing foods that are slightly more nutritious. In April the FTC proposed a set of voluntary guidelines for food companies to follow when marketed to kids, which means maybe the industry is listening.

Although don’t expect Bobby to start begging you to make the newest, hottest kale recipes. Not yet, at least.

Food Marketers Get ‘Smarter’ About Ads for Kids [Wall Street Journal]