Food and beverage companies in the U.S. spend more than $1.6 billion each year to attract children’s attention. Much of that money goes to licensing fees that allow the companies to put popular TV and movie characters on their packages.
These characterssuch as the lovable ogre Shrek, shown at lefthave proven adept at selling food to kids (and their parents). This worries some health experts, in large part because licensed characters appear most often on junk food.
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Ninja Turtle Pudding Pies
This Hostess snack dates to the early 1990s, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were A-list celebrities among the 12-and-under set.
When food companies put a TV or movie character on the package, they often modify the product itself. The crust of the pudding pie, shown at left, was dyed a delicious turtle green.
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TV and movie characters have been used to hawk a wide variety of products. The Nickelodeon star SpongeBob SquarePants, shown here on a box of sugary popsicles, has also been a pitchman for spinach, carrots, and fruit.
That may seem like a positive thing, but some experts say that it will just confuse children in the end. If kids begin to associate SpongeBob with healthy foods such as carrots, the thinking goes, they may end up believing that popsicles are nutritious, too.
4 of 10Matthew Hoelscher
The Shrek movies are wildly popular with kids, so it should come as no surprise that the title character is one of the most commonly used faces on junk-food packaging.
The ogre’s mug is so ubiquitous that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a Boston-based advocacy organization, launched a Fire Shrek letter-writing campaign in 2007.
The organization identified 17 distinct food promotions pegged to the release of Shrek the Third. Most of the 70 products involved in the promotions were “energy-dense, low-nutrient” foods, the CCFC noted.
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Ninja Turtle Cookies
The line between food and entertainment gets very blurry when food products—such as these Ninja Turtle cookies—are made to resemble the TV and movie characters that appear on the box.
Telling a child not to play with his or her food doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when the food is an edible action figure.
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Star Wars Pop-Tarts
Some food products, such as these Star Wars-themed Pop-Tarts, use characters that are aimed at older children (or perhaps fanatic adults).
But most marketing strategies that use licensed characters are targeted to young kids. Children under age 7 or 8 are the most vulnerable to these sales pitches, experts say.
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Once again manufacturers have opted to alter a product to match the character hawking it. The filling inside this Snickers bar is green in an effort to attract young snackers. But an entire bar has half of a child’s recommended fat intake for an entire day!
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Advertisers did not hesitate to piggyback on the popularity of the recent Spiderman trilogy. Pringles slapped his image on not just one flavor of its popular chips, but the brand used his alter-ego character to market a different variety as well.
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Surprisingly not green, these Oreos have seemingly little to do with The Hulk. Yet children will still gravitate toward this type of packaging.
That’s why experts are calling for the removal of all such marketing, including endorsements by celebrities, for products aimed at kids.
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These breakfast pastries are packed with sugar and contain more than their fair share of fat as well. Despite the best intentions of nutrition-savvy parents, experts say kids are so intent on buying foods with their favorite characters’ faces, they can put up quite the persuasive grocery store meltdown to get their way.