At a recent Washington news conference with first lady, Michelle Obama, the Walt Disney Company announced that all products advertised on its child-based media formats, including television, radio and websites, will be required to meet a new set of nutritional standards.
Products currently advertised on Disney media such as Capri Sun drinks, Kraft Lunchables meals, candy, sugared cereal and fast food, will no longer qualify as acceptable.
Additionally, Disney will reduce the amount of sodium by 25 percent in the 12 million children’s meals served annually at its theme parks, and create public service announcements promoting exercise and healthy eating.
The New York Times notes Disney’s ad restrictions will not take effect until 2015 because of long-term contracts with advertisers. The new ad standards will apply to any programming aimed at children under 12, which includes live-action programs and cartoons.
In a refreshing moment of candor, Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chairman, confessed that Disney’s move had little to do with the unselfish concern for the ubiquitous welfare of children. “This is not altruistic. This is about smart business,” said Iger.
Smart business indeed, because as Times writer Brooks Barnes shrewdly points out, Disney’s motivation is all about establishing future brand trust.
“Taking steps to combat childhood obesity allows Disney the opportunity to polish its brand as one families can trust — something that drives sales of everything from Pixar DVDs to baby clothes to theme park vacations.”
Disney has fastidiously done their homework and studied the marketplace, concluding correctly that there’s solid consumer demand for more nutritious food.
And as we’ve all witnessed, that consumer demand has manifested in the form of online social media with the power to put people out of business.
Pink slime maker Beef Products, Inc., has since suspended operations at all but one plant.
Iger claims health food for children has already become a well established business for Disney, and says for the last 6 years, consumers have purchased about two billion servings of Disney-licensed servings of fruit and vegetables.
Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, concedes Disney’s plan positions the company far ahead of its competitors, but warns that Disney’s nutritional guidelines still fall short.
For instance, Wootan says Disney’s new standards require cereal to contain less than 10 grams of sugar a serving, but Wootan says the sugar amount should be closer to about six grams.
“This limits the marketing of the worst junk foods, but it won’t mean you’re only going to see ads for apples, bananas and oranges, either,” she said.
The Mickey Stamp of Approval
In grocery store aisles, Disney-licensed products that meet the “proper” criteria for calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar can display what Disney calls a “Mickey Check” on their packaging — a logo comprised of Mickey Mouse ears and a check mark.
But critics claim a subjective, self-appointed approval rating like the “Mickey Check” could backfire on the company.
Consumers distrust or ignore healthy eating symbols on packaging because so many food companies have introduced self-serving varieties, said Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.
“Here comes Disney with yet another symbol, and it’s too early to say whether this will simply add to the chaos and confusion or actually help steer parents and kids as they shop,” Mr. Brownell said.
The New York Times suggests Disney’s new guidelines will pressure Disney rivals like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to follow their lead, and adds that food companies will also feel the effects.