The Battle for Impressionable Minds


Let’s continue to slog through the vexed history of the United Kingdom’s effort to quell obesity. As we have seen, when the long-awaited “Childhood obesity: a plan for action” came out last summer, it disappointed everyone who noticed how much it had shrunk and weakened since the early drafts.

The pathetically gutted document signaled the intention of continuing governmental inaction in several areas, including media regulation. Some wanted — and still want — tighter control over junk food advertising. This feeling was exacerbated when a charitable organization issued a report on that very topic.

True, junk food advertising on television during children’s programming had already been banned. But scientists working for Cancer Research UK discovered that a lot of kids were seeing ads in what are considered to be the family TV-viewing hours. The accusations against the industry and its flacks are described by journalist Danny Gridley:

In addition to using Facebook to target potential consumers, their advertisements are filled with famous celebrities, catchy jingles, laughs, and bright colors. These tactics are working scarily well.

The researchers chronicled the reactions of actual children, like the girl who explained that when you see a guy dancing in an advertisement, you naturally conclude that he is so happy because of the junk food he just scarfed down. A boy said that when a food advertisement ended, he wanted to lick the TV screen. No wonder the grownups freaked out.

More than 30 health-oriented groups, each with its own particular focus and its own target issue, backed Cancer Research UK in agitating for change. They wanted to keep TV free of junk food marketing until what the Brits call the “watershed” time of 9 p.m.

Sympathy for the devil

Less than two months ago, Megan Tatum outlined McDonald’s situation for The Grocer, which publishes an annual Advertising Report. In 2016, the mega-corporation spent more on advertising than any other food or drink outfit in the British Isles. How much, you ask? £85m (85 million pounds), equivalent to almost $110 million. We’re talking about television, radio, outdoor display advertising, and print.

Now, get this. Malcolm Clark, of the Children’s Food Campaign — this is one of the good guys, mind you — told the press that it wasn’t such a big deal, because Mickey D has been “generally more engaged and proactive to concerns” than its competitors, which sets a pretty low bar for excellence.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Junk Food Advertisements Are Way Too Good at Reaching Children,”, 07/05/16
Source: “McDonald/s is the new no 1 in UK food and drink ad spend,”, 03/31/17
Image by nk2549/123RF Stock Photo

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