Keeping Candy Out of the Line of Fire
Mary Ellen Kuhn

A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research and public policy group, does a good job of making advertising candy and snacks to children look bad. The study underscores the fact that kids are seeing a lot of advertising for food products on television, and — what a surprise! — most of the advertised products aren’t fruits, vegetables or lean protein. As a matter of fact, quite a few of the aforementioned advertisements — 34 percent to be specific — are for candy and snack products. On a typical day, children ages two to seven are likely to see three ads for candy and snacks, while eight- to 12-year-olds will see five such ads on average.
Hearing such statistics, the public — with a little assistance from savvy PR operatives and/or overzealous news reporters — tends to start jumping to the conclusion that candy and snack makers are working overtime to make American kids fat and unhealthy. Clearly, this is extremely dangerous turf for our industry. Picking a fight with the estimable Kaiser Family Foundation is not an appropriate response; getting defensive is never a smart communications strategy. Still, I can’t resist the temptation to point out that digging deeper into the Kaiser survey reveals that those eight-to 12-year-olds who are seeing five candy and snack ads daily are doing so because they’re watching three hours and 25 minutes of television per day! From my perspective, spending nearly three and one-half hours daily vegging out in front of a TV is way more concerning — and more likely to contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle — than exposure to some candy and snack television commercials. But that’s just me! Keep in mind, too, that there’s no law that says just because a child sees it on TV, the parent must automatically purchase the product. Parents, not young kids, need to be calling the shots on candy and snack product purchases.
The right policy at the right time
Fortunately, in an example of truly impeccable timing, the National Confectioners Association announced its new guidelines on advertising confectionery products to children just days before the Kaiser Family Foundation study was released. The guidelines are sane and smart. You can view them at They recommend practices such as featuring candy in reasonable portion sizes, devoting part of ad messages to promoting a healthy lifestyle, and exercising caution in the use of third-party licensed characters in advertising. Such guidelines embrace a responsible, ethical approach to candy marketing that I think we can all feel good about. And they’re good for our industry’s image as well — which is a nice added benefit.