Kraft takes lead in responsibility

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Kraft Foods did the right thing-for business, for children, for health-with its move to halt advertising unhealthy foods to young kids. It's time for rivals to respond-not by privately kvetching that Kraft caved in to critics, but by taking equally bold steps in marketing to deal with children's obesity.

Industry executives were quick to say Kraft's action was a legal and PR maneuver inspired by parent Altria Group, owner of Philip Morris. So be it. Philip Morris, after lawyers decided it made business sense to acknowledge cigarettes killed customers, has been the industry leader in providing comprehensive information to help smokers quit. Kraft should take that tool kit and ratchet it up-not showing parents how to make kids quit Oreos, but establishing Kraft as an authoritative resource on how to help children get healthy and active.

Food marketers are scrambling to deliver healthier fare to rebut critics and respond to market demand. But Kraft is the first top food company to yank ads from kid-targeted media for a lineup of unhealthy fare-Oreo, Kool-Aid, fat-laden Lunchables-and plug in ads for healthier alternatives. Kraft, an industry laggard in recent years, is acting as the leader.

Rival food executives fear this is an admission of guilt that will be used to regulate what and how they can market. But the tobacco industry demonstrated denial is not an effective long-term tactic to fend off laws and lawsuits.

Kraft's plan drew a boilerplate response from ad trade groups: Fine as long as the move is voluntary, but not something that should be forced by government. Not a ringing endorsement. That's too bad. It's better for marketers to do the right thing, heading off regulation by acting responsibly and accepting some responsibility.

Children's obesity is a problem. Kraft's decision to pull kids' ads for unhealthy snacks and promote healthier fare is part of the solution. Let's see other marketers respond with more creative solutions to address a problem they helped create.

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