Selling Crap to Kids, Part 6

Early in 2014, Hank Cardello in a article noted how a drugstore chain had sacrificed $2 billion in annual profits by removing cigarettes from its shelves. Apple expunged 6,000 “sexually suggestive apps” from iTunes, and Costco banned firearms from its premises. Some companies discovered that what they lost in immediate income they could make back by the circuitous route of adopting “more socially acceptable products and practices.”

Before anyone could start feeling too warm and fuzzy about all this, the writer added,

[C]ompanies like CVS don’t give up a profitable line of business unless it is in their best long-term financial interest to do so. What CVS did is what I call having a moment of profitable morality.

Over a period of years, Disney theme parks shifted their children’s menus toward the healthier end of the spectrum. French fries were out; carrots were in. Even more surprising…

In 2012 Disney announced that it would no longer run junk food ads on its TV and radio stations, sacrificing a share of this $2 billion market in advertising to children… Disney’s stock price has doubled in the past two years.

Once the “halo effect” had been discovered, some corporations wasted no time “devoting their sharpest minds to figuring which of their products can thrive as the market changes, and de-emphasizing or eliminating the ones that no longer make sense.” But sadly, not enough corporations threw their sharpest minds into the job, and over the ensuing years, the world has seen plenty of examples that have no connection with morality, profitable or otherwise.

At the same time, though, other organizations became more conscious and more conscientious. In Australia, where almost two-thirds of school-age children participate in organized sports, a study published by a sports medicine journal shined a spotlight on the practice of advertising junk food at sports fields and even on the uniforms of young athletes.

By 2014, it was estimated that corporations spent a combined 1.6 billion every year on advertising specifically tailored to children, which achieved spectacular results, especially when imaginary characters were telling the kids what to eat. An interesting detail: The technique worked equally well in persuading them toward either junk food or healthy fare like vegetables.

Around the same time, Cornell University researchers studied the success of various in-store advertising ploys, such as positioning children’s cereal lower on the shelves, where actual children who happened to be shopping with a parent (and were too big to ride in the grocery cart) could more readily see them. It was also discovered that the friendly characters depicted on children’s cereal boxes were designed to make eye contact with their prospective customers, whereas on adult cereal boxes, characters like sports figures did not make eye contact with the viewer, but looked straight ahead.

Apparently, that is the sort of project into which most of the cereal industry’s sharpest minds invested their creative energies.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “CVS and the Rise of Corporate Profitable Morality,” 02/27/14
Source: “Junk food ads taking over kids sport – study,”,10/06/14
Source: “Me eat vegetable: Cookie Monster wants kids to snack healthier,”, 10/04/14
Source: “Warning: Cereal Box Characters Are Stalking The Children,”, 04/07/14
Images by dancingbarefoot3, Karen, Matthew Sheales/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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