At last week’s Partnership for a Healthier America summit in Washington, D.C., First Lady Michelle Obama announced a new, multimillion dollar advertising initiative to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables. Funded by a coalition of private companies and nonprofits, the “FNV” campaign* will include high caliber celebrities like Jessica Alba, Kristen Bell, Nick Jonas and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.
Here’s a teaser ad for the campaign:
While, to my knowledge, the ad campaign isn’t specifically targeted at children, it will surely be seen by them, especially given the participation of popular stars like Nick Jonas and the fact that the campaign will include both traditional media and use of social media and guerrilla marketing.
In the past, I’ve had an ongoing debate with some food policy colleagues over whether it’s ever OK to influence kids through marketing, even if the advertisements are for healthy foods. In those debates I’ve agreed that it’s generally unethical to market to children, given that they lack the intellectual capacity to know they’re being marketed to.
But I’ve also argued several times on this blog and elsewhere that I’d wholeheartedly support even the most aggressive, child-directed marketing tactics if the products in question are whole or minimally processed fruits and vegetables. Such foods are unequivocally good for us, both children and adults eat far too few of them, and I see little risk that marketing will ever cause a mindless overconsumption of produce.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the dietary equation, the food and beverage industries spend almost $2 billion a year to market generally unhealthy but hyper-palatable products specifically to our kids. In 2012, the fast food industry spent an astonishing $4.6 billion on advertising. Meanwhile, in that same year, only $116 million was spent on the marketing of fruits and vegetables. As noted in this Politico piece about the FNV campaign, the produce industry, “hampered by tight margins, perishability and a decentralized market, has historically not been able to afford expensive advertising campaigns.”
So when I see teasers like these coming from the FNV campaign . . .
. . . as a parent, just three words come to my mind: Bring. It. On.
And if you have any doubt that the campaign could well be effective, consider this fearful reaction from a member of the processed food industry, as quoted in Politico:
“I think the problem is that [the First Lady’s] surrounded herself with activists or food elitists that will tell her things as a fact when they’re not,” said one industry insider, who did not want to be named, adding that the produce industry is “reaping enormous returns” from the high-profile push for fruits and vegetables.
Hmm… Between FNV’s simple message that we ought to be eating more fresh fruits and vegetables versus Big Food “health” claims like these, who is really telling “things as a fact when they’re not?”
* The FNV campaign is created by the firm Victors & Spoils, which has had some practice in this area. Some of you may remember this 2013 Sunday New York Times magazine article, in which Times writer Michael Moss (Salt Sugar Fat) challenged that agency to come up with a mock campaign for broccoli.
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