How Kellogg's Limits on Kids Advertising Could Shake Up Industry

If Other Marketers Follow Suit, More Than $1 Billion in Spending May Be in Limbo

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WASHINGTON ( -- Some $206 million in marketing spending is in limbo now that Kellogg Co. has agreed to severely limit advertising to kids under age 12 -- but the tally could easily soar past $1 billion if other major marketers, as expected, follow suit.
Kellogg said it would advertise only foods that fit a particular nutritional profile in any medium that gets more than 50% of its audience from kids under age 12.
Kellogg said it would advertise only foods that fit a particular nutritional profile in any medium that gets more than 50% of its audience from kids under age 12.

Limits on fat and sugar
Kellogg said it would advertise only foods that fit a particular nutritional profile in any medium that gets more than 50% of its audience from kids under age 12. Products that fit the kids-advertising criteria will have to have no more than 200 calories per serving, no more than zero grams of trans fat and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat. There are also limits on sugar.

Kellogg President-CEO David Mackay said that 27% of Kellogg's ad spending in the U.S. is currently directed to children under age 12. According to Advertising Age estimates, Kellogg spent $765.1 million on total marketing in 2006, so a potential $206 million could be affected. If viewed in strictly measured-media terms, the total affected would be $134 million, as based on TNS Media Intelligence figures. Kellogg's statement cited TV, print, radio and internet ads as well as "website activities directed to children, promotions/premiums, product placement and in-school marketing."

Kellogg, which currently does not advertise to kids under 6, also agreed to limit its use of licensed characters on products aimed at kids under 12 to products that meet minimum nutrition standards. It also agreed not to advertise in schools or use product placement in any medium primarily directed at kids.

Says spending won't drop
The company has indicated its total spending won't drop off, suggesting that the kids' dollars will be redirected elsewhere. But it seems unlikely that a major ad push substituting, for example, Corn Flakes for Frosted Flakes, makes a lot of sense on kids' TV.

"Wherever possible, implementation of Kellogg commitments will begin immediately," Kellogg said. "For example, certain brands will feature better-for-you options in their advertisements. We will be making content enhancements to our child-directed websites, including adding automatic screen-time limits and healthy-lifestyle and nutrition messaging, plus limiting depictions of foods that don't meet our nutrient criteria in interactive activities like games, downloads and wallpaper."

"We're taking these steps to address increasing concerns about marketing to children and further strengthen our commitment to responsible marketing," Mr. Mackay said in a statement. "In addition, we plan to increasingly emphasize products with enhanced nutritional value as well as continuing to find ways to emphasize nutrition and healthy lifestyles in our marketing to children."

'Defining moment'
The impact, however, is expected to reverberate far beyond the $11 billion marketer. "Today's announcement by the Kellogg Co. has the potential to be a defining moment in our nation's fight against childhood obesity," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who has repeatedly criticized food advertising to kids. "I hope that other food companies follow suit."

Responding to pressure from interest groups, 11 of the country's biggest food and fast-food marketers -- Kellogg among them -- have already prepared pledges to comply with a new initiative from the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the National Advertising Review Council to limit the food products advertised to kids.

Under that initiative, the 11 companies that do about two-thirds of the advertising of foods to kids committed to rein in advertising of foods that don't meet a certain nutrition profile. They also agreed to devote half their ads to promote more healthful dietary choices or good nutrition, forgo advertising in elementary schools and reduce the use of license characters for foods that don't meet a certain nutritional profile.

Uncomfortable place
But Kellogg, as part of an agreement to forestall a lawsuit from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, has now gone further -- as have Kraft Foods and Coca-Cola Co. before it. Kellogg's move puts rivals that haven't made bold steps in the health arena in an uncomfortable place.

CSPI is certainly expecting further cooperation; it said it would temporarily hold off on its promise to sue other food companies and Viacom's Nickelodeon. The group said it first wanted to see what steps other companies take, and major steps "would obviate the need" to go ahead with a suit against Nickelodeon. (Kellogg spent $44 million advertising on Nickelodeon last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, excluding Nick at Nite.)

Even so, the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood isn't entirely happy. "While Kellogg's new policy doesn't go as far as we would like -- we believe all advertising should be targeted to parents, not children -- it is a tacit admission that the advertising practices favored by the food industry have had a powerful influence on children's food choices and have had a negative effect on children's health and well-being," the group said. "For far too long, the food industry has denied that marketing is a factor in children's consumption of unhealthy foods."

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Contributing: Kevin Brown
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