restricted access Editorial 14.3: Food marketing to children
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Editorial 14.3:
Food marketing to children

Tackling a controversial and consequential debate in marketing, this fall issue brings into focus children and youth as marketing targets, paying particular attention to the food and beverage industries.

Introducing this issue, Simona De Iulio gives an overview of the messages in children’s food advertising at the hand of French and Italian advertisements from 1949 to 2005. In “From Too Little to Too Much,” she chronicles a shift in the representation of the nutritional needs of children throughout the decades, revealing the prevailing contemporaneous societal beliefs and anxieties regarding nutrition and good parenting.

Equally highlighting the importance of hitting the right chord with parents when marketing products for their children, Jessamyn Neuhaus follows with an in-depth review of Pampers advertising in “A Little Bit of Love You Can Wrap Your Baby in.” She discusses the represented ideals of parenthood during the 1960s and 1970s, when Second Wave feminism called into question traditional gender roles. Choosing a message of care over convenience, Pampers succeeded in presenting their newly marketed disposable diapers as an expression of a mother’s love.

For our Classic Campaign, we return to food marketing for Mark Ritter’s “The Reinvention of Ronald McDonald.” Documenting the global mascot’s evolution from its predecessor, “Speedee,” to its current reincarnation as a champion of physical fitness, Ritter reminds us of Ronald’s ultimate purpose: appealing to children and being an ambassador for the fast-food lifestyle.

To conclude the issue and suggest further reading, Astrid Van den Bossche reviews Advances in Communication Research to Reduce Childhood Obesity edited by Jerome D. Williams, Keryn E. Pasch, and Chiquita A. Collins. A compilation of insights from marketing, law, ethics, policymaking, and sociocultural studies, the book examines the current debates and issues on marketing to children in the light of the obesity epidemic.

The remit of children-directed marketing is large, and the only consensus the authors of these articles reach is that these marketing efforts tend to be effective. The debate on whether it is ethical, desirable, or even legal remains unresolved, but it is clear that, regardless of its societal effects, advertising reveals and documents cultural and societal concerns as they evolve throughout history.