From Pediatrics, “Children’s Food and Beverage Promotion on Television to Parents“:
BACKGROUND: Nutritionally poor foods are heavily advertised to children on television. Whether those same products are also advertised to parents on television has not been systematically examined.
METHODS: This study is a content analysis of advertisements for children’s packaged foods and beverages aired over US network, cable, and syndicated television for 1 year (2012 to 2013). The target audience of each advertisement was defined as children or parents based on advertisement content, where parent-directed advertisements included emotional appeals related to family bonding and love. Advertisement characteristics and patterns of airtime were compared across target audience, and the proportion of total airtime devoted to advertisements targeting parents was computed.
RESULTS: Fifty-one children’s food or beverage products were advertised over the study year, 25 (49%) of which were advertised directly to parents. Parent-directed advertisements more often featured nutrition and health messaging and an active lifestyle than child-directed advertisements, whereas child-directed advertisements more frequently highlighted fun and product taste. Over all products, 42.4% of total airtime was devoted to advertisements that targeted parents. The products with the most amount of airtime over the study year were ready-to-eat cereals, sugar-sweetened beverages, and children’s yogurt, and the proportion of total advertisement airtime for those products devoted to parents was 24.4%, 72.8%, and 25.8%, respectively.
Researchers analyzed a database of TV shows in the US for a year to look at the advertisements for children’s packaged foods and beverages. They classified them as directed towards kids or their parents.
About half of the foods were directed at parents. Those ads usually promoted nutrition, health, and an active lifestyle. Kids’ ads focused on taste.
What’s concerning is that the foods often advertised aren’t really “healthy”. These claims are all for sugar-sweetened beverages:
Parent-directed advertisements featured the nutritional attributes of the product (eg, “with 1 combined serving of fruits and vegetables,” “40% fewer calories than most regular soda brands,” “made with white low-fat milk with calcium, vitamins A and D”) and lower sugar content (“no high-fructose corn syrup,” “now with 35% less sugar,” “with just enough sugar for a wholesome everyday treat”); advertisements for chocolate milk also included messages related to taste (“the great taste kids love”).
Pitching them as such, is… well, decide for yourselves. But clearly these companies know their audiences. Parents want to keep their kids healthy; kids want to eat what’s tasty.