Magazine article Marketing

The Kids Question

Magazine article Marketing

The Kids Question

Article excerpt

How can commerce and responsibility be balanced when marketing food to children? We ask a food marketer, a business philosopher and a politician


The premise here is that consumer goods companies would have any desire to communicate in an irresponsible way, and for my part, I would disagree with such a suggestion. No smart company would want to communicate irresponsibly to parents or their children, because it goes against their best interests.

A company's biggest assets are its brands, and consumer trust in brands is fundamental to its existence. One-and-a-half million consumers make a decision to buy Walkers crisps every day - if they believed we were misleading them, they would very quickly stop buying our brand.

Let's take a step back and look at the role played by advertising. Advertising helps to raise awareness in a commercially competitive environment and encourages brand choice. But while it may encourage consumers to try something once, if the product or service is not good quality or doesn't deliver a consumer need, consumers will not come back for more. In short, advertising cannot make consumers do things they don't want to do; it needs to work with consumer interest and desire.

Why do we believe companies such as ours advertise responsibly? First, because the majority of us are responsible companies and we want to be considered as such by the consumers we serve. Second, because there are very stringent advertising codes of practice in place - particularly with regard to children - that ensure we advertise our products or services responsibly. In the case of snack products, the code ensures our advertising does not encourage children to over-consume or replace main meals with snacks.

And third, because we seek not only to adhere to the letter of the codes, but to practise the spirit of them too. In the case of Walkers, we provide relevant nutritional information on our packs that allows consumers to make an informed choice about the products they eat. We also carry healthy lunchbox suggestions on the back of our multi-packs that clearly define the role of our products in the diet - in other words, as a treat.

We also know that advertising features way down the ranking of influences on children's habits. Research shows that it lies in ninth position, far behind the more significant influences of family and friends.

So why is advertising to children such a hot topic at the moment? Because it's currently seen by some as a major cause of the rise in obesity. But we know that this is simply not true. Advertising is only a very minor driver, if a driver at all, in the obesity issue.

What we need to do, if we are to move this debate forward, is to focus our efforts on addressing the real causes of obesity: too much energy consumed and not enough being expended through activity and exercise.

The right approach to tackling the obesity issue is a holistic one from all stakeholders - in other words, the food industry, the government, schools and parents - which addresses both sides of the equation: calories in and out.

The food industry must continue to provide ever-greater choice to the consumer, through development of healthier products. There is also an opportunity to provide more consistent information to consumers about the nutritional content of food across all sectors of the industry. At the same time, schools and parents must help to educate their children about the importance of a balanced lifestyle and a balanced diet. The government must provide them with the appropriate resources to enable them to do that.

PepsiCo would welcome the opportunity to play its part in helping address the issue of obesity. Companies such as ours should be included, not excluded from being a key part of the solution - not least because as owners of brands that consumers trust, and champions in consumer communication, we have much to offer. …

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