Unilever will end marketing to young kids to fight childhood obesity

Discussion
Photo: @darby via Twenty20; Source: Unilever
Feb 21, 2020
Matthew Stern

There are certain products that have long been deemed inappropriate to market towards kids. CPG brand giant Unilever is adding its entire product portfolio to that list.

By the end of 2020, the CPG conglomerate will no longer market or advertise its products to children under 12, the company shared in a post on its website. Unilever will not use any influencer, celebrities or social media personalities who appeal to children under 12 or who are that age themselves to promote products and will only use cartoons to advertise a limited number of products with a particular nutritional profile. The company is making the move in an effort to help fight childhood obesity, which the World Health Organization has identified as one of the biggest dangers to public health in the new century.

Unilever-owned Wall’s Ice Cream will be the first brand to bear a Responsibly Made for Kids logo on products with a reduced amount of sugar and calories. The marketing will be aimed at adults who make the purchase decisions.

Studies dating as far back as the 1990s have established that children exert a significant amount of influence on what their parents buy in cases where children will be the primary consumers (as is often the case with junk food and toys).

More recent studies, such as one conducted by Facebook and reported on Social Media Today, state that kids in the social media era have even more of an impact on parental buying decisions. These days, 71 percent of parents believe that children hold sway over how much they spend on products.

Trying to keep kids from getting hooked on junk food is not the only change Unilever has made to meet the demands of a consumer that is both more health-conscious and more concerned about issues of corporate responsibility.

Unilever recently acquired better-for-you snack brand Graze, winning a bidding war against major CPGs including Kellogg’s and PepsiCo, as reported by Bakery and Snacks. Graze makes better-for-you products such as snack bars and trail mixes free from artificial ingredients.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is Unilever taking sufficient actions in changing its marketing strategy to avoid marketing directly to children and implementing a Responsibly Made for Kids logo? Do you see other big CPGs making similar moves?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The removal of direct marketing puts the responsibility for kids’ product choices largely in parents’ control -- where it belongs."
"I am not a fan of a “misery society.” I see nothing wrong with kids having chocolate or other treats so long as it is in moderation..."
"I think the photo at the top of this discussion tells it all. This is “green-washing” for obesity."

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13 Comments on "Unilever will end marketing to young kids to fight childhood obesity"


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Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Once again, Unilever is taking actions that put the greater good above the good of the bottom line. I applaud this decision, and actually think the “Responsibly Made for Kids” positioning has a good chance of mitigating much of the revenue lost from no longer advertising directly to kids. It’s a very smart message that is highly attuned to Millennial values.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The Responsibility Made for Kids graphic has a kid eating an ice-cream! That’s kinda ironic! But in any case, this is a good move that will help parents in their quests to ensure kids eat healthily and may encourage children to pick better snacks. All that said, I am not a fan of a “misery society.” I see nothing wrong with kids having chocolate or other treats so long as it is in moderation, is part of a balanced diet, and that they also exercise! That’s the real lesson here and it’s one that Unilever alone can’t teach.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

Unilever is certainly taking a step in the right direction, but this – by itself – will not solve childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is a complex issue; solving it will require collaboration between manufacturers, retailers, governments, and (importantly) parents. Interesting that there is no information as to whether Unilever will reformulate all products to be healthier…

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
3 months 15 days ago

This is a good, responsible decision. But there is an inherent conflict of interest. CPG brands can do a lot more in educating consumers on what they are purchasing. Misleading labels and questionable benefits are all too common.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Kudos for moving in this direction. It’s impossible to stop kids from desiring certain products, but the removal of direct marketing puts the responsibility for kids’ product choices largely in parents’ control — where it belongs.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

While I think this is a step in the right direction, it feels a bit more like a marketing ploy than a truly responsible effort. But that being said, I applaud any move towards healthier eating!

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

Not to be jaded about this, but isn’t Unilever using this change as a marketing campaign to adults? We all hope (wish) that CPGs do the right things and do not focus on trying to market their products to kids. However it seems this is not the norm, but the exception to current CPG marketing practices. Meaning when a CPG makes this change they can create a marketing campaign about the decision. Maybe someday when the majority of CPGs take the high road on marketing to kids, we can then call out the exceptions as the bad actors in the business.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

This is a smart move by Unilever, and will likely have minimal impact since other than a couple of ice cream brands they are mostly HBC products. Even so, Unilever could do a lot more to clean up the ingredients of its food products, which would do much more to aid in the battle against childhood obesity.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

There will always be unhealthy options. Those options will almost always taste delicious. Kids will always clamor for these treats, even the ones they have never tried.

I have absolutely no qualms with Unilever taking the actions it is, and applaud recipe changes that reduce sugar. For me the biggest issue isn’t manufacturers creating decadent sweets, it’s that “These days, 71 percent of parents believe that children hold sway over how much they spend on products.” I’m not a curmudgeon, in fact admittedly I cave in to my boys allowing them to eat more sugar than they should, but at the end of the day unless a child has their own money and own shopping outings, a parent has 100 percent power over the food they choose to purchase and serve. Again, not saying that a well-deserved treat here and there is unwarranted, but putting the blame on children because they “hold influence” over an adult’s choices is a cop out.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I think the photo at the top of this discussion tells it all. This is “green-washing” for obesity.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Health and wellness, along with moderation, begin at the home and a big part of the process is the habits that kids learn from their parents and immediate family members. Unilever along with several other CPG brands are taking significant steps in offering healthier snack options. However, ultimately, healthy eating and lifestyle choices originate in the home and the parents are a big part of setting the stage for making the right choices.

CPG companies do not have a social responsibility for fighting childhood obesity, as they are in the business of selling products to as broad an audience as they can. Unilever and other CPG firms have a significant opportunity to sell more holistic and healthier products that will resonate with the health-conscious generational movement.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Like all corporate social responsibility efforts, this one carries a tinge of self-interest. It’s very decent of Unilever to step back from marketing its brands directly to children, but it also wants to sell a lot of ice cream. The fact remains that its portion-controlled ice cream novelties are made from highly refined ingredients, including sugars.
Still, on balance I think the consuming public should welcome this declaration by Unilever. I hope the announced changes were developed based on active listening to its end-customers – that is, from solid market research.

Experience has shown that CSR programs sometimes penetrate an organization’s DNA and alter the culture in enduring ways. Consumers tend to reward better actors with brand loyalty. If Unilever gains market share, its competitors may feel pressure to respond with similar policies.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Kudos for Unilever for this bold move. Maybe other food makers will take notice. Maybe marketers of sweetened breakfast cereal with cartoon characters on the packaging?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The removal of direct marketing puts the responsibility for kids’ product choices largely in parents’ control -- where it belongs."
"I am not a fan of a “misery society.” I see nothing wrong with kids having chocolate or other treats so long as it is in moderation..."
"I think the photo at the top of this discussion tells it all. This is “green-washing” for obesity."

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