Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Food Marketing Practices Archive

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Worst Food Marketing Practices:

Denny’s targets families with Hobbit-themed promotion

October 2012
Denny’s has teamed up with the Warner Bros. film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. The partnership is being promoted through TV ads, the Denny’s company website, and at Denny’s locations through signage, place mats with QR codes, and a special Hobbit-themed menu. Diners can collect “one-of-a-kind memorabilia” from the restaurant and order 11 specialty menu items, including Frodo’s Pot Roast Skillet and Gandalf's Gobble Melt. The promotional foods contain up to 1420 calories and 2940 mg sodium; The Lone-Lands Campfire Cookie Milkshake alone contains 1100 calories and 102 grams of sugar, which is an 8-year-old’s added sugar allowance for an entire week.

Mountain Dew and Doritos partner with Halo 4

October 2012
Mountain Dew and Doritos are no strangers to campaigns targeting young males and gamers, and now they are joining forces to promote the launch of Halo 4. Codes on specially-marked drink and chip packages can be entered online to win prizes and earn “double experience points” ahead of the game’s November release. A 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew contains 77 grams of sugar, which is nearly twice as much added sugar as an active, 17-year-old male should have all day.

App games for unhealthy foods target kids

September 2012
The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted the plethora of kids’ app games that are based on unhealthy food. A listing of the most popular apps reveals numerous games that feature food products such as candy, ice cream, corn dogs, hotdogs, french fries, and hamburgers. Many of these games are not based on branded food items or sponsored by companies, but a few of the most popular ones are, including Icee Maker, SuperPretzel Factory, and Cookie Dough Bites. These apps allure children who may spend hours viewing advertisements disguised as games.

Cheetos mascot entertains crowds at AHA Heart Walk

September 2012
Snack food company Frito-Lay was a sponsor of this month’s American Heart Association Heart Walk in Dallas, Texas. At the event, Chester the Cheetah, the Cheetos mascot, made an appearance on stage, walked alongside participants, and even handed out bags of Cheetos. In addition to Cheetos, Frito-Lay products include Doritos, Cracker Jacks, Funyuns, Fritos, Tostitos, and Sunchips.

Sunny D Book Spree

September 2012
Sunny D is offering free books for K-7th teachers’ classrooms when parents or students bring in labels from designated Sunny D packages. Each teacher can mail in 20 drink labels to receive a package of 20 books for his or her classroom. The orange juice look-alike actually contains just 5% juice, three artificial sweeteners, two artificial colors, four preservatives, and just as many calories as other juice drinks.

Taco Bell offers soda for breakfast

August 2012
Taco Bell recently began marketing a new breakfast menu, which includes Mtn Dew A.M., a breakfast drink that combines Mountain Dew and Tropicana Orange Juice. Although the nutrition information for this product has not been made public, it contains somewhere between 14 and 18 teaspoons of sugar per 20 ounce serving, depending on the exact ratio of soda to juice. Americans typically consume sugar in excess of public health recommendations, including sugar from juice, making a sugary soda-juice drink at breakfast an unnecessary nutritional nightmare.

Coca-Cola sponsors Soccer Camp for Texas youth

August 2012
Coca-Cola is sponsoring a soccer camp for 13- to 15-year-old youth in Texas this November. The camp is open to 300 young athletes and promises to teach participants “the best way to stay healthy and active.” One 12-ounce can of the signature soda provides 87% of the added sugar that active 13- to 15-year-olds should have all day. The camp is also sponsored by McDonald’s.

Welch’s heart healthy claims

August 2012
Numerous studies point to sugar as a culprit in the development of heart disease and all of Welch’s products that are marketed as “heart healthy” contain little else. Although juice contains no saturated fat, a dietary risk factor in the development of heart disease, there are many foods which are far superior for heart health than fruit snacks, fruit cocktails, spreads, and juices. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has warned Welch’s that it will sue the company if it does not stop marketing its sugary products as heart healthy.

Ovaltine reaches out to moms on Facebook

August 2012
Ovaltine, a sugary chocolate mix that is added to milk, has launched an advertising campaign that targets mothers on Facebook, encouraging them to upload noteworthy quotes from their children on a special Ovaltine app. They can then create “Quotagraphs”, customized pictures including the quote which they can then share on various social networks. Ovaltine packaging and advertising touts the “healthy qualities” of the powder, yet 1 serving of the mix contains nine grams of sugar and no more than 10% of any one vitamin or mineral.

Burger King’s ‘Family Food’ game

August 2012
Based on the popular Family Feud game show, Burger King’s latest ‘Family Food’ sweepstakes offers daily monetary giveaways as well as a 1-in-3 chance to win other prizes, such as free or discounted food, cars, family vacations, and airline tickets. The campaign focuses on family bonds and allows youth as young as 13 to enter. A spokesman for the campaign says that it “provides families with the opportunity to get together to enjoy our limited-time Summer BBQ menu.” Game pieces are available on medium and large specialty drinks and combo meals, none of which meet the Institute of Medicine’s nutrition standards for healthy meals for children.

Lunchables to award over $1 million in prizes to kids

August 2012
Lunchables has launched the biggest advertising and sweepstakes campaign in the brand’s history, called “Never Be Bored Again.” The contest, which is only open to 6- to 13-year-olds, will award $1 million in prizes, including three grand prizes winners who can choose from a multi-room tree house, a game room full of electronics, or a backyard sports complex. The Lunchables brand belongs to Kraft Foods, a company that pledges not to market foods to children unless they are on the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative’s list of “better-for-you” products. Only 4 of the 45 Lunchables products make the cut.

Arby’s and Pepsi unite to give out concert tickets

July 2012
Customers who purchase a Pepsi at Arby’s are encouraged to use their smart phones to capture a picture of the drink and submit it online for a chance to win a “VIP concert experience” through the “Snap and Rock” sweepstakes. Each picture entry also earns a smaller prize, such as free food from Arby’s or music downloads. The promotion targets youth through interactive games on the company website as well as on Facebook, where visitors are encouraged to download coupons and share promotional links with their friends.

Applebee’s uses kids’ meals and ice cream sundaes to encourage reading

July 2012
Applebee’s locations in New York and Connecticut have launched a “Summer Reading Challenge” in cooperation with The Salvation Army. New book donations at Applebee’s restaurants are rewarded with a coupon for a free Oreo Cookie sundae, which contains 360 calories and 19 grams of fat. Children can also receive a free kids’ meal for every ten books that they read over the summer. Before dessert, Applebee’s kids’ meals contain up to 1,400 calories and 2,360 mg of sodium.

Coca-Cola and McDonald’s sponsor 2012 Summer Olympic Games

June 2012
Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have embraced their roles as sponsors for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, using myriad methods to target children and teens. Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympic Torch Relay, aims to reach teens with the interactive “Move to the Beat of London 2012” musical campaign, and promotes specialty packaging and contests. McDonald’s highlights the partnership with children’s advergames, the Happy Meal Chef Contest, and Olympics happy meal-themed toys in the UK. The world’s largest McDonald’s was recently unveiled at the Olympic site, with seating for 1,500 customers. The restaurant expects to serve 1.75 million meals in less than a month.

7-Eleven markets Slurpees to children through police officers

June 2012
Now in its 18th year, 7-Eleven’s signature summer program, “Operation Chill,” is back again. As part of the promotion, 7-Eleven Is giving out 1 million “Free Slurpee” coupons to law enforcement agencies across the country. Police officers then give the coupons to children and teens who are caught doing good deeds or promoting safety in their communities. The first ingredient in every Slurpee is high fructose corn syrup and a “small” contains 17 grams of sugar, which is more added sugar than a 4- to 8-year-old child should have in an entire day.

Nestle partners with Girl Scouts of America to sell candy bars

June 2012
Nestle has launched limited edition varieties of Crunch bars in three popular Girl Scout cookie flavors. In stores this month, the novelty candy bars are being promoted through Facebook coupon offers and a TV ad that features a young Girl Scout. A Nestle spokesperson characterized the chocolate bars as “"the most successful new product launch out of the gate that we've ever had." Each Girl Scout-themed Crunch bar contains about 200 calories, half of which are from fat, and 13-17 grams of sugar.

Licensing onslaught for Madagascar 3

June 2012
The third installment of the Madagascar children’s film franchise is being promoted through myriad licensing agreements leading up to the movie’s release. Despite partnering with two healthy products: tofu from House Foods and Dole bananas, characters from the PG-rated Dreamworks film can also be seen gracing the packages of numerous unhealthy items. In addition to McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, Madagascar 3-themed products are available from Airheads, Blue Bunny ice cream, Jello, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, General Mill’s fruit-flavored snacks, and even Children’s Claritin.

Baby Ruth touts protein content

May 2012
The packaging for select varieties of Nestle’s Baby Ruth candy bars now boasts, “4 grams protein per bar.” Although there is some protein provided by peanuts in Baby Ruth bars, the first and predominant ingredient is sugar. In fact, the ingredients list contains three sources of sugar, including high fructose corn syrup, in addition to trans fat (the fourth ingredient). Each regular Baby Ruth bar packs 230 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 33 grams of sugar; more than 8 times the amount of protein. Don’t be fooled. This candy is no healthier than the rest.

Capri Sun expands marketing to young teens

May 2012
Teens are the target of the social media campaign for the new Capri Sun Big Pouch- a larger, re-sealable, and revamped version of the original drink. At 11.2 ounces, almost twice the size of the original 6-ounce pouches, each drink contains 38 grams of sugar. Wilfred de Guzman, Brand Manager for Capri Sun, stated that the product is intended for 13- to 15-year-olds, a new target market for the Capri Sun brand. Still carrying the claim that Capri Sun contains 25% less sugar than leading fruit drinks, the added sugar exceeds recommendations for inactive teens and provides 66% of the daily added sugar allowance for very active 15-year-old males.

Mountain Dew promotes Dark Knight film

May 2012
‘The Dark Knight Rises’, a PG-13 rated film opening this summer, is partnering with the soda brand Mountain Dew. A key piece of promotional partnership is an online world that allows users to view trailers, see sneak scenes from the film, and access other bonus content. The website also offers visitors the chance to win “exclusive Dew/Dark Knight Rises prizes” and encourages users to upload pictures of themselves with Mountain Dew for the chance to win extra prizes. The brand will produce a special Batman flavor and promotional cans to build excitement for the film release, highlighting the partnership on television, radio, and the internet. A 12-ounce can of Mountain Dew has 46 grams of sugar, which is more added sugar than a teenage male should have in a full day.

7 UP sponsors youth soccer tryouts

May 2012
Alianza de Futbol is an event that recruits talented youth to win soccer scholarships or opportunities to advance to professional teams and only youth born between 1993 and 1999 (13-19 years old) are eligible. The event, which takes place in 10 U.S. cities, was created by BRC Group LLC, “a sports marketing agency specializing in the Hispanic market”, and according to the website, “Alianza de Futbol Hispano and its corporate partners reach a community of thousands of Hispanic soccer players and families each year.” One such corporate partner this year is 7 Up; the logo is featured prominently on the soccer jerseys and numerous ads appear on the website. Gatorade and Cerveza Tecate are also sponsors this year.

Hardee’s teams up with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

May 2012
Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants are partnering with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, a Sony film that opens this summer. The PG-13 rated movie is being promoted with coupons for “Spider-Man themed food items” such as The Amazing Grilled Cheese Bacon Thickburger, as well as kids’ meal toys and other advertising on television, company websites and social media pages. The Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. websites allow visitors to see commercials and trailers for the film while promoting the film and food products through activities such as The Amazing Spider-Man video game.

Dunkin Donuts MIB III

May 2012
Dunkin’ Donuts is joining forces with the latest installment of the Men In Black film franchise. The campaign features TV and radio advertising, a Twitter sweepstakes, a unique mobile app, and signature Men In Black-themed coffee and donut products, including the Undercover Black Cocoa Donut and Chocolate Lunarmax Donuts. The free “Dunkin MIB3 Capture” mobile app “allows fans to capture Spikey Bulbaon their phone and interact with him, feed him Dunkin' Donuts virtual Iced Coffee and donuts.” To sweeten the deal, the app also allows users to locate nearby Dunkin’ Donuts locations.

Dr Pepper unites with ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ film

April 2012
Characters from the latest comic book film ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ can be found on Dr Pepper collectible cans. The cans feature one of eight different characters which can be placed side-by-side to form a mural of superheroes. The promotional partnership also features an online game described by Dr Pepper as “addictive,” in which players can become one of the superheroes from the classic comic book story. A 12-ounce can of Dr Pepper contains 150 calories and 40 grams of sugar, which is 120-266% of the added sugar that a 13-year-old should have per day.

Domino’s Smart Slice program delivers to schools

April 2012
A specially-formulated Domino’s pizza that meets school lunch nutrition criteria is served to children in nearly 3,000 schools each week, up from 1,100 schools just over a year ago. The program is carried out in collaboration with the National Dairy Council and delivers fresh-baked Domino’s pizzas to participating schools. Although the Smart Slice pizza meets school nutrition guidelines, this practice could create an impression among children that Domino’s pizza is healthier than pizza from other companies, when in fact, the Smart Slice pizza is not available for personal delivery and Domino’s does not offer a comparable healthy option.

Peeps Magical Moments Tour

March 2012
This week, the Peeps brand initiated a “Magical Moments Tour” in a yellow car adorned with an enormous replica of the recognizable Peeps chick. The tour will be focused in southern states and will include stops at schools, local events, and other unannounced locations where there will be distribution of “free PEEPS Easter-basket goodies and coupons while giving fans one-of-a-kind photo opportunities with the PEEPSTER car and Chick mascot”. The tour will be followed on the brand’s facebook page, with uploaded pictures and tour updates.

Cookies for breakfast

March 2012
Marketing cookie-like products as breakfast fare is a growing trend for food companies. The highly processed Quaker Breakfast Cookie contains 28 primary ingredients, the second of which is high fructose corn syrup. Each cookie provides 14 grams of sugar and despite Quaker’s statement that “Your childhood dreams have come true, you can have a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast”, eating dessert for breakfast each day is nothing short of unhealthy. Nabsico has introduced a similar “new kind of breakfast”, the BelVita Breakfast Biscuit, which contains 11 grams of sugar per serving and less fiber than the Quaker Breakfast Cookie. Beware of misleading claims on these products and opt for a healthier, less-processed breakfast.

Wendy’s High School Heisman

March 2012
Wendy’s is again accepting applications for the annual honor of receiving a “Wendy’s High School Heisman” award. The award is given to accomplished student athletes who also maintain good grades and participate in their communities. The first 25,000 applicants will be given a $10 Wendy’s gift card and one female and one male winner will receive a $500 gift card to the restaurant. Almost 50,000 students are expected to apply for the award this year.

Crayons functional kids’ drinks

March 2012
Crayons is a line of “FUNctional” kids beverages that includes sports drinks and fruit drinks. The drinks boast their fortification with multiple vitamins, minerals, and sometimes fiber, in addition to lots of added sugar. Sports drinks are generally unnecessary for children and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks should be avoided or restricted” and that only prolonged, intense exercise warrants consumption at all. The sports drink varieties contain 11 grams of sugar per 8-ounce can, while the fruit drinks contain 18 grams- more added sugar than an 8-year-old should have all day. One Crayon’s fruit drink varieties is ‘3 PM Fruit Punch’ and is advertised for “afternoon snacking”.

IHOP runs promotion for Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax

March 2012
IHOP is offering specialty kids’ meal items to promote the release of the new Dr. Seuss computer animated children’s film, The Lorax. Promotional menu items include dessert-like Truffula Chip Pancakes and Rooty Tooty Bar-ba-Looty Blueberry Cone Cake. On the IHOP website, kids can enter to win trips to Seuss Landing at Universal Orlando Resort. This promotion is just one of the many corporate tie-ins for the film, which is receiving considerable backlash from parents for its overt and excessive product placement.

Sprite targets teens with NBA star power

February 2012
Sprite has launched a contest to coincide with NBA All-Star weekend, which includes a search for talented young basketball players. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are highlighted in commercials for the promotion which encourages young people to send in videos of exceptional basketball tricks and skills. Sprite has also launched a campaign to contribute funds to neighborhood parks and basketball courts. As a Coca-Cola representative said, “Basketball… is a way to get teens around the world to express their passion and moves.” Another representative says that their park campaign and collaboration with hip-hop artist Drake have also helped to engage teens.

Wendy’s offers specialty kids’ meal toys for 2-year-olds

February 2012
Wendy’s is giving away Baby Genius education-based incentives for the “under three age group” in kids’ meals this year. The company will advertise books at point-of-purchase displays and on Wendy’s website. Although the chain offers plain milk and mandarin oranges as an option with their kids’ meals, the lowest-calorie meal possibility provides 400 calories (unless water is selected), already 40% of the 1,000 calories most 2-year-olds need per day. Many main dish, side dish, and drinks options will provide far more calories- up to 730, almost ¾ of daily calorie need for such a young child.

General Mills Basic 4 cereal touts fruit and nut content

February 2012
The tagline for Basic 4 calls the cereal “A delicious blend of sweet and tangy fruits, crunchy almonds, and a wholesome variety of grains.” A quick read of the ingredient list shows that sugar appears twice on the label before raisins, the 5th ingredient and first fruit. There is also more salt that the other fruit in the product (cranberries) which is the 12th ingredient. Though the cereal name implies that it provides components of 4 food groups once milk is added, the cereal contributes only a minimal amount of nuts or fruit and 5 forms of added sugar.

Coca-Cola is the “official soft drink” of Ocean City, MD

February 2012
Ocean City has signed a 5-year deal with Coca-Cola Refreshments that makes Coca-Cola the “official soft drink” of the Maryland town. The contractual agreement contends that Coca-Cola will be served at town-operated events and in all town-owned properties. The contract includes a $65,000 annual payment to the city, media advertising, free products for events, and commission on all product sales. The city previously had a similar contract with a Pepsi bottling company.

Virtual cereal-ity

January 2012
Cereal boxes may soon become “platforms for all kinds of content”. In an interview with USA Today, the Chief Marketing Officer of General Mills discussed how he would like to reinvent food packaging, most notably on cereal boxes, using digital technology. By summer, children may be able to interact with their cereal box by pointing their smart phone to specific places on the box to see “visual surprises”, play games, or engage in other forms of entertainment with the brand. Testing has already been done on a Honey Nut Cheerios box, where consumers were asked to point their camera phone onto the box to see a video of a “world of honey”. This emerging marketing tactic is concerning, considering it is one more way that children will be engaging and interacting with a brand. Content may include ads, advergames, or websites, to name a few. Another problem could be the encouragement of distracted eating, which has been shown to increase consumption.

Cherry juice drinks from Ocean Spray

January 2012
The tagline for the newly-launched cherry flavors of Ocean Spray juice drinks claims, “Real Cherries. Real Good.” While the drinks contain some cherry juice in addition to grape, carrot, apple, or cranberry juices, the total juice content is only 15-22%, meaning most of the 28 grams of sugar in these drinks is added. Ocean Spray has many 100% juices, but the new Cherry Juice Cocktail, Cran-Cherry Juice Drink, and Ruby Cherry Juice Drink are far behind. The campaign for the cherry-flavored drinks includes a facebook promotion and coupons for 64 oz. containers of the new flavors.

Are natural ingredients enough to make Nutella healthy?

January 2012
Nutella follows a common theme in advertisements, boasting natural ingredients and vitamin E as reasons to serve it with children’s breakfast meals. The website tells consumers that “the unique taste of Nutella® hazelnut spread continues to come from the combination of roasted hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa” when in fact the first two ingredients in this product are actually sugar and palm oil. A single serving provides a whopping 21 grams of sugar, which is 140% of the added sugar that a 4-8 year old should have in an entire day.

Newton’s Fruit Thins and Fruit Crisps “made with real fruit”? Not so much.

January 2012
The popular Newton’s brand has branched out to include two additional products, Fruit Thins and Fruit Crisps, both available in a variety of flavors. The names of the product as well as the large print “made with real fruit” on the packaging imply that these products contain a considerable amount of fruit. Inspection of the ingredient lists shows that, in contrast to the brand’s flagship Fig Newton’s where figs are the second ingredient, the fruit in these two products only appears as the sixth or seventh ingredient, trumped by two types of flour, sugar, palm oil, and oats, and cornstarch.

TruMoo chocolate milk

January 2012
A current tv ad for TruMoo Milk touts the nutritious qualities of its chocolate milk. The commercial is set in a grocery store while a miniature man dressed in white discusses the positive nutrients on her shoulder and a man in red appears later saying, “I got nothin’”. While the character in red may have no complaints, the ad fails to mention that the same healthy nutrients can be found in plain milk, which contains no added sugar, compared to the extra 10-13 grams of added sugar (which studies show children consume far too much) in standard flavored milks.

Two new caffeinated products from V8

January 2012
Campbell Soup Company’s V8 introduced a 100% juice energy drink and energy shot last year. V-Fusion + Energy is a 100% juice that contains as much caffeine as a standard energy drink, with 80 mg from “natural green tea” per 8-ounce can. V8 ENERGY is shot which also contains caffeine from green tea in addition to the artificial sweetener sucralose, despite being 100% juice. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that people under 18 years of age never consume caffeine, so while most 100% juices from V8 may be healthy in small amounts, these caffeinated drinks are never appropriate for children and youth.

Fruity Pebbles unites with WWE

January 2012
Post Fruity Pebbles is partnering with WWE and WWE fighter John Cena. The fighter has referenced Fruit Pebbles in WWE broadcasts and has been shown eating them on camera. As part of the partnership, printed promotions appear on three million Fruity Pebbles cereal boxes, including codes that can be entered online for prizes. Children can win a “meet-and-greet” with the wrestling star or autographed t-shirts and grand prize winners will receive paid travel and tickets for to a WWE event for themselves and three friends. Fruity Pebbles has 0 grams of fiber and 11 grams of sugar per serving.

Industry report brags about improved food marketing … with pictures of healthy foods that aren’t advertised

December 2011
Seventeen food companies have signed on to the self-regulatory Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which guides the companies’ marketing practices to children under twelve. A December 2011 progress report discusses the nutrition criteria that the companies have created to market only “healthy” or “better-for-you” foods. Instead of showcasing any of their hundreds of approved products, the report features numerous pictures of children eating healthy foods that none of the companies even advertise, such as fruit and sandwiches, including a large cover shot of a child eating an orange. If the writers of this report actually believe that the products food companies are marketing to children are nutritious, why don’t they show a child eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs or Froot Loops or a Popsicle on the cover?

Honeycomb encourages kids to advertise in schools

December 2011
Post Honeycomb cereal has launched an “eco-friendly” website that gives instructions for making craft projects from Honeycomb boxes, including folders, recycling racks, and bee-feeding stations. Despite Post Foods’ pledge not to advertise their products in elementary schools, the website encourages kids to “Organize a folder-making party at school!” and “Create multiple recycling racks for all your classrooms at school…” using Honeycomb boxes. The content of the website is rather limited; if children wish to help the environment, their opportunity to “go big for the planet” includes just three crafts.

Apple Jacks racing App

December 2011
Kellogg’s Apple Jacks cereal has a promotional app available for download, called AJ Race Rally. The Apple Jack’s site declares, “The race to the bowl is on! Play as Apple™ or CinnaMon™ as you race through the Ice Kingdom, collecting tasty Apple Jacks® cereal pieces for extra points.” Apple Jacks logos and cereal pieces are scattered throughout the game, which is played by tapping the screen and tilting the phone to maneuver the racecar through the course. Although the characters which kids can select as the driver are an apple or cinnamon stick, the cereal contains more salt than apples or cinnamon and the first ingredient (and 43% of the product) is sugar.

Denny’s uses ‘Arthur Christmas’ film to lure children to a dessert-themed breakfast meal

November 2011
Denny’s has partnered with Sony’s 3D family film ‘Arthur Christmas’ for a web-based holiday promotion. The partnership includes interactive Facebook features, banner ads, as well as company website activities for kids. On the Denny’s website, children can write a message to Santa Claus via his son Arthur and the Arthur Christmas website will give out coupons for free Denny’s kids’ meals. Two new menu items are being highlighted for the promotion: Arthur’s Milk and Cookies Shake and Arthur’s Christmas Cookie Pancakes, both with cookie pieces mixed in and topped with whipped cream and sprinkles.

Kraft adds caffeine to MiO Liquid Water Enhancer

November 2011
Kraft Foods, the maker of Kool-Aid and Capri Sun, introduced MiO Liquid Water Enhancer earlier this year. Used by squirting small amounts of artificially-sweetened, flavored liquid into plain water, they are meant to be portable alternatives to powdered drink mixes and come in brightly colored packaging. The product line is already expanding, as Black Cherry and Thunder Punch caffeinated flavors of MiO Energy were recently announced. These drink additives have a serving size of just half of a teaspoon (one squirt with as much caffeine as a cup of coffee), making it incredibly easy, especially for children, to consume unsafe amounts of caffeine. Kraft maintains that the MiO Energy will not be marketed to kids, but the package coloring is the only visible difference between Energy and the other varieties, which Kraft says are safe for all ages.

Mountain Dew joins forces with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

August 2011
PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew recently announced a partnership with the violent, first-person shooter game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Codes on specially marked bottles can used to win prizes or gain experience points that can be used to upgrade weapons within the game, which is wildly popular with adolescent males. Mountain Dew is also re-introducing a specialty line of soda called Mountain Dew Game Fuel to highlight the promotion. The VP of marketing for Mountain Dew said that the is partnership is about “marrying the passions” of their target audiences.

Disney-Pixar’s ‘Cars 2’ Debuts With a Character-Licensing Frenzy

June 2011
The highly anticipated movie, and the most expensive Pixar film in history, is embarking on an enormous marketing campaign in an effort to sell more than $2.8 billion worth of branded merchandise. Numerous food products are on the lengthy list, sporting characters from the hit film franchise. Many of these products have little nutritive value and contain excessive added sugar. Among the products bearing Lightning McQueen’s image are Kellogg’s Cheez Its, Rice Krispies Treats, Nutrigrain Bars, and Cars 2 Assorted Fruit Flavored Snacks, which contain 65% of calories from added sugar.

Children Encouraged to Stay and Play in McDonald’s Virtual World

April 2011
A child-targeted website from McDonald’s,, first launched in 2008 and allows children to create an avatar and play games in a virtual world. The site avoids the explicit advertisement of food items from the restaurant, but encourages kids to enter special codes from Happy Meal boxes which unlock otherwise inaccessible components of the site. The agency responsible for has explained that the purpose of the online world is to “build lasting emotional relationships with children.” A recent television ad campaign featuring Ronald McDonald also encourages kids to engage with the brand online.

Wendy’s Launches Advertising Campaign for Updated French Fries

November 2010
Wendy’s is spending $25 million to market a new version of the chain’s french fries, called Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt. These fries differ from Wendy’s traditional fries in two ways: the skin is left on the potato and traditional table salt has been replaced by sea salt. The advertising campaign implies that the fries are more healthful due to these changes and the company website even encourages consumers to “discover real fries”. However, the nutrition facts for the new product reveal that they are equivalent to the old fries in calorie and total fat content, and contain an additional 140 mg of sodium per medium serving.

Kellogg Opens “Pop-Tarts World” in Times Square

August 2010
The popular toaster pastry has gotten a flashy new makeover in Manhattan’s Times Square. Pop-Tarts World hosts a multitude of Pop-Tart-themed confections, activities, and shows. Build your own tart, create a customized variety pack, design a t-shirt, and even see a Pop-Tart-themed light show. A menu of munchies features “Pop-Tarts Sushi” and 30 other recipes highlighting various flavors. This showy stunt generates extreme exposure for an extremely unhealthy product. It pushes the limits of advertising, creating an interactive and highly engaging world that children will flock to.

Burger King’s Twilight Promotion Encourages Youth to Order Upsized Value Meal

June 2010
Burger King has launched a massive promotion for “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” which includes an in-store game where players can scratch off characters on the game piece for a chance to win prizes, ranging from $100,000 and a 2011 Volvo to movie tickets and Burger King products. However, in order to receive these game pieces, customers must purchase a Burger King Value Meal. Customers who purchase a Value Meal receive one game piece while customers who purchase an upsized Value Meal receive two game pieces. The "Twilight" Saga is immensely popular among children, tweens, and teenagers who are obsessed with the film’s plot and characters. By offering these fans more "Twilight" game pieces with the larger meal, Burger King is intentionally promoting the consumption of more poor-nutrient food to youth.

Enfagrow Markets New Chocolate-Flavored Formula for Toddlers

May 2010
Mead-Johnson is marketing its new Enfamil chocolate toddler formula to parents as the solution to ensuring that their “picky” toddlers get the nutrients they need. The company said the product is just a dietary supplement, but the package label boldly and deceptively proclaims that it is a toddler formula. This fortified product, which contains a needless amount of sugar and chocolate, competes with milk as a weaning food and misleads parents to believe it is a suitable replacement.

Pop Tarts’ “Baked With Real Fruit” Claim Deceiving

April 2010
Pop Tarts is running magazine advertisements aimed at parents claiming that their highly processed pastries are “baked with real fruit.” These ads falsely give the impression that Pop Tarts contain a substantial amount of “real” fruit and therefore are healthy to serve to children. The first five ingredients in Pop Tarts are enriched flour, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sugar and soybean and palm oil - not fruit. The truth is that these products contain only 10% fruit, but this fact is not displayed visibly enough to clarify its deceptive claim.

Post Introduces New Cupcake Pebbles Cereal

April 2010
Post Cereal has introduced a new cereal to its Pebbles line-up: Cupcake Pebbles. Their website claims it is “The first cupcake cereal ever!” that is a “Party in a box!” The cereal, which they describe as wholesome, low-fat, and cholesterol-free, is high in sugar and contains no fiber. Post has introduced yet another nutritionally poor cereal targeted directly to children, rather than an actual healthy cereal product.

Burger King Targets Girls and Boys with Pinkalicious & NASCAR Promotions

March 2010
In an effort to target girls, Burger King has launched a promotion with Pinkalicious, the widely popular children's book character who girls view as their friend. BK is deplorably using this princess who “can’t stop eating pink cupcakes” to sell their brand, sending the entirely wrong message about healthy eating. BK has also teamed up with NASCAR and Tony Stewart, a race car popular driver, to target boys who admire him. Both promotions include toys, posters, and interactive online content and games at BK’s children’s website,

KFC Recruits Professional Athletes to Wear Branded Athletic Grips

March 2010
KFC has announced a sports marketing deal to promote its new Boneless Filet Box Meal. KFC selected professional football player Jason Avant, golfer J.B. Holmes, and tennis player Devin Britton to endorse the boneless wings. All three athletes have agreed to wear branded KFC grips to “help deliver the message that consumers can ‘get a grip’ on a meatier way to eat chicken.” As a result of this under-the-radar marketing effort, fans will now be exposed to the KFC brand whenever they watch these athletes perform.

Taco Bell Touts New Drive-Thru Diet

January 2010
Taco Bell’s new advertising campaign introduced the “Drive-Thru Diet” to promote its Fresco menu. Its spokesperson, Christine, testifies to have lost 54 pounds eating from the Fresco menu. Taco Bell claims it is not a weight-loss program and that the results are not typical, but the name and infomercial misleadingly suggests otherwise. While the Fresco menu items do contain fewer calories than other Taco Bell items, some also contain approximately a days worth of sodium, which certainly does not contribute to a “better” diet.

KFC Pays Cities to Brand Fire Hydrants

January 2010
KFC is giving $7,500 to two Indiana cities to pay for new fire hydrants and extinguishers in exchange for advertising Colonel Sander’s face on them. KFC said it wants to improve the cities’ fire safety, but its primary concern undoubtedly is to promote their new “fiery” wings. This gaudy marketing effort is a public nuisance that takes advantage of the economic struggles of Indiana’s cities.

7-Eleven Tests Mobile Marketing Campaign for Free Beverage

December 2009
7-Eleven is testing a new mobile marketing campaign where customers can text the word “FAST” or “RAPIDO” to receive one free beverage a day, such as its 32-ounce Big Gulp fountain drink. Aside from encouraging the consumption of enormous amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages, this campaign raises the ethical issue of mobile marketing by collecting participants’ phone numbers, many of whom are likely to be children or teens.

Hostess’ Halloween $1 Million Sweepstake Tied-in with DreamWorks’ “Monsters vs. Aliens” Movie

October 2009
The promotion includes an Instant Win Game that features characters from the animated movie “Monsters vs. Aliens” with a top prize of $1 million, as well as a Nintendo Wii “Monsters vs. Aliens” video game. These characters also appear on the front of Hostess’ movie-themed, blue and chocolate CupCakes. Hostess shamelessly uses a children’s movie and gambling to get children hooked on its zero-nutrient product.

Kellogg Testing Technology to Brand Individual Corn Flakes with Laser

October 2009
Kellogg is taking its marketing to the extreme by testing a system that would laser the Kellogg logo onto each Corn Flake’s cereal piece. It is troubling that the company has turned food into another platform to advertise on. The name on the box is enough; the food people consume should not be tainted with advertising.

Pepsi and Rock Band Create New MTV Video Music Awards Category

August 2009
Pepsi has teamed up with Rock Band to create a new MTV Video Music Award category, Pepsi Rock Band Music Video. Youth can vote for their favorite Pepsi Rock Band video at, and the winner will be announced at the show in September. Pepsi is taking advantage of the popularity of Rock Band and MTV with youth in order to target and appeal to these young consumers.

Pepsi Uses Twitter to Sell New Diet Mountain Dew UltraViolet

August 2009
PepsiCo introduced its new Diet Mountain Dew UltraViolet soda to its Twitter and Facebook followers by holding an exclusive taste-test party for them. The intention was to use social media to generate buzz and word-of-mouth among youth about the new product.

Rice Krispies Claims to Support Immunity

July 2009
After the FDA warned Kellogg that health claims made by Cheerios and Frosted Mini-Wheats were false and violated the law, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Cocoa Krispies have emerged claiming to now “support your child’s immunity” because of added vitamins. The claim does not need FDA approval because it is technically a structure-function claim; however, it could easily mislead consumers who may interpret it as a health claim.

Post Uses the Wildlife Warriors Project to Lure Children to Website

July 2009
Post is using its partnership with the WildLife Warriors, a wildlife conservation organization, to get children and their parents to purchases boxes of Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles. In order to vote for their favorite conservation cause on, children must “earn a vote” by playing games with their PebPal which requires they enter a Postoken code found inside the cereal boxes.

Dr. Pepper Slyly Uses Partnership with EA Games to Increase Soda Sales Through Product Placements and Under-The-Cap Codes

June 2009
Dr. Pepper made a multi-million dollar deal with EA video games to place Dr. Pepper products and content in their games. The beverage company is manipulating teens to purchase Dr. Pepper by placing special codes under caps that will unlock exclusive game content, such as new levels. This promotion exploits EA’s young consumers, deviously marketing sugary sodas to youth, a product highly associated with obesity.

McDonalds and Burger King Use Summer Blockbuster Hits to Promote Kids Meals

May 2009
McDonalds’ movie tie-in with “Night at the Museum 2” and Burger King’s movie tie-ins with “Ice Age 2,” “Star Trek,” “Transformers 2,” and “G.I. Joe” reveal their intention to capitalize on the success and popularity of these movies among children. This raises concerns about the nutrition of the meals they are promoting since consumption of fast food is associated with poor diets and obesity.

Burger King Airs Highly Sexualized SpongeBob Commercial

April 2009
Burger King used SpongeBob, a popular Nickelodeon character, to market its Kids Meal to children inappropriately with a sexualized commercial that objectified women. BK claims the ad was intended for adult audiences, but using a cartoon character adored by children to disrespect women and sell kids meals is completely unacceptable.

Butterfinger Buzz Promotion: Buzz Brand on Head to Enter Sweepstakes

February 2009
As part of the Butterfinger’s promotion for its new caffeine-infused candy bar, people who shaved “Butterfinger Buzz” on their head and spray-painted it orange were entered into a sweepstakes to win a range of prizes. It is bad enough that Butterfinger is advertising a candy bar loaded with 80 milligrams of caffeine (more than most 12 oz. sodas), but even worse that it turns consumers into walking advertisements for the potentially harmful product.

Hostess Uses “Madagascar” Promotion to Get Young Fans to Pester Parents for Twinkies

February 2009
Hostess used the popularity of the film “Madagascar” among children to increase sales by placing ebullient characters from the movie on boxes of Twinkies and CupCakes to promote the “Madagascar 2” DVD release. In order to receive the $4 rebate, parents had to purchase two family-size Hostess products.