Kellogg — Good Corp, Bad Corp

[Kellogg World Headquarters]

Kellogg World Headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich.

Previously, Childhood Obesity News considered the strange split personality of Kellogg. The corporation has donated money and support to a lot of good causes. For instance, FoodCorps (part of AmeriCorps) is an organization with more than 100 local groups in 31 states. It subsidizes 50 workers, by paying them stipends, to work on projects to reduce childhood obesity and increase access to healthful food. FoodCorps is supported by $2 million in private funding, much of which comes from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. According to Nancy Knoche’s reportage for Nonprofit Quarterly:

At the same time however, a group of corporate agricultural businesses and farms will be spending fifteen times as much–$30 million–on a public relations campaign to show that they are “committed to provide healthy choices.”

And isn’t Kellogg one of them? Isn’t Kellogg one of the corporate agricultural businesses that spends a fortune on public relations and lobbying to ensure that the government does not make too many rules about what they may advertise to whom?

For Time, Alice Park reported on online “advergames,” which she characterizes as insidious. Every month, about 1.2 million kids enjoy puzzles and arcade-like games while exposing themselves to the constant presence of company logos and the unremitting psychological pressure to express gratitude to the company by buying and consuming its products. In fact, some features of the games are not accessible unless junk food is bought.

The effects

A research team began by studying the online presence of corporations that had voluntarily pledged to abide by the Better Business Bureau’s CFBAI, or Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. While they may have cleaned up their act in regard to television advertising, they were still working hard to capture the attention and brand loyalty of kids through advergames. Kids in one study spent 88% more time on advergame sites than on other Web pages.

But that was only part of the research led by Dr. Jennifer Harris, director of Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, who worked with 152 kids between 7 and 12 years old. It was set up so each child would play two randomly assigned games, with a snack break in between. The available foods included grapes and carrots, and processed fruit snacks, cookies, crackers, and chips. Of course every move was watched and recorded, and the children were questioned about their fondness for the various foods and their beliefs about the foods’ healthfulness. Park writes:

Harris and her colleagues chose two advergames featuring unhealthy foods, two featuring healthy foods, and two control games that didn’t include advertising for any products…. The children who played the healthy advergames designed by Dole ate as much of the unhealthy foods as the youngsters who played the unhealthy advergames, but they also ate 50% more grapes and carrots than the unhealthy game players.

So, one thing the healthy games did was to make the subjects more likely to overeat — but at least some of the calories they consumed also contained nutrients. But wait, there is more:

The children playing the unhealthy advergames for PopTarts [made by Kellogg] and Oreos, however, ate 56% more unhealthy snacks compared to those playing the healthy games, and 16% more compared to those in the control group. These youngsters also ate less fruits and vegetables than children playing either the healthy or control games.

The researchers concluded that advertising embedded in the games influenced children to choose junk food and reject healthful food. But though Kellogg can be extensively implicated, the most egregious example originates with another company that makes candy and promotes a game called Mystic Chewie whose slogan is “I Predict You’ll Be Hooked.”

In Britain, when accused of harboring 14 advergames on its website, Kellogg slid through on a technicality. Only kids in Canada, where the rules are not so strict, are supposed to access that website. Kellogg’s nominally British website only offered one game, which promoted a government-approved product. Not amused by such hair-splitting, the Local Government Association (to which the UK’s 400 local councils all belong) became inspired to crack down on loopholes and, at the very least, require health warnings on Internet advergames.

On the other hand, Kellogg is kind enough to offer online visitors an ingenious tool that consumers can use to identify which of its products contains the most sugar, as well as the most fat, salt, fiber, or calories.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Waging a Battle against Obesity – Young Leaders vs. Corporate Interests,” NonprofitQuarterly.org, 08/26/11
Source: “Can Online Games Influence What Kids Eat?” Time.com, 01/10/12
Source: “ ‘I Predict You’ll Be Hooked’- Makers of sugary foods exploiting loophole to target kids with free internet ‘advergames’,” Mirror.co.UK, 03/22/14
Source: “Taste the Possibilities,” Kelloggs.com
Image by Battle Creek CVB

 

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