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Pepsi and Coke to Reform Marketing Efforts to Kids -- Maybe

coke-and-kid.jpgA press release put out today by the International Council of Beverages Associations promises some sweeping changes to how soda is marketed to children under 12:

The International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA) ... adopted guidelines on marketing to children. The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, the two largest global beverage companies, announced their intention to implement the guidelines by the end of 2008 in all countries around the world. The ICBA Guidelines on Marketing to Children set a standard whereby beverage companies voluntarily agree to eliminate the advertising and marketing of a wide range of beverages, including carbonated soft drinks, to any audience that is comprised predominantly of children under 12. This policy includes paid media outlets such as TV, radio, print, Internet, phone messaging and cinema (including product placement). As part of the guidelines, ICBA will also review other forms of marketing, including sponsorships, presence in schools, and point-of sale promotions by the end of 2009.
However, there's a reason why the agencies of record for Coke and Pepsi worldwide probably aren't losing much sleep over the pledge, namely, this is an agreement for self-regulation, and even the agreed upon terms provide plenty of wiggle room. How exactly will the ICBA determine if a market is comprised "predominantly of children under 12"? Even more to the point, how about advertising to markets with huge number of kids under 12, but in which these children aren't the majority?

There's a precedent here: The Council of Better Business Bureaus' Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which made similar promises about how food and beverages would be marketed to kids under 12, especially in schools. One year later, McDonald's caught flak for a partnership with Seminole County, Fla., school board in which it subsidized the printing of report cards and offered free Happy Meals and other "food prizes" to kindergartners through fifth-graders with good grades. So the first time around didn't exactly put a halt to marketing to kids.
It's not that these pledges are in bad faith, exactly. But with childhood obesity continuing to skyrocket, marketers are going to have to provide more than lip service to how they market to children, lest they want to fall under the government's much harsher regulatory eye, as adovcated in this 2006 New England Journal of Medicine article.

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