The alternative title to this post is “How Kellogg’s manipulated mums to get near their children.”
This blog is serious and about something seriously clever. It involves one of the two most predatory companies when it comes to pushing junk on our children – Kellogg’s. Coca-Cola is the other chief culprit.
If I told you that the founder of Netmums would be doing a promotional video, on behalf of Kellogg’s, on the home page of one of their sites, smiling like a paid celebrity endorser to close with: “And if you are buying Kellogg’s – look out for the special pack”, you would think I was joking. I wish…
On Monday 9th September #GiveAChildABreakfast was trending (promoted) on twitter. I was stunned to see that one of the top tweets was from @Netmums: “Please retweet – For every share tweet or watch … Kelloggs will donate a breakfast on your behalf #GiveAChildABreakfast”
Thankfully my tweet was retweeted enough times to become a top tweet to counter this: “PLEASE do not support this #GiveAChildABreakfast disgrace. Allowing a sugar pusher like Kellogg’s access to our children is evil.”
Among 30 or so retweets, I did get some choice replies:
@DaleHarrison92 told me “get a grip you would rather see a child go on an empty stomach than have a bowl of cereal. Not the work of the devil.”
Rachal Winter (@rachal_ava) took a similar line: “get a life they are helping children that’s all that matters! Someone has got to feed these kids!!”
To which I couldn’t resist replying “Um – isn’t that what parents are for?!”
But anyway – helping children or helping Kellogg’s?…
The marketing person who conceived this idea deserves the marketing world equivalent of an Oscar. It is genius.
Organisations that protect children, like the Children’s Food Campaign, exist to counter the power of the likes of Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola. Here’s are a couple of examples…
In early 2010, Kellogg’s launched a campaign trying to get children to consume 35% sugar Coco Pops, not once, but twice a day. “Ever thought of Coco Pops after school?” was the slogan – calculatedly placed on bus shelters where children would be waiting for transport to and from school. Christine Haigh of the Children’s Food Campaign launched a counter campaign: “It’s outrageous that Kellogg’s, which is a partner of Change4Life, is encouraging children to eat more of their sugary products.”
The Guardian reported in April that 26 people and organisations complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the advert was irresponsible because it targeted schoolchildren, and encouraged them to eat a snack that was particularly high in sugar. The ASA rejected the complaints, accepting the Kellogg’s argument that although Coco Pops are approximately 35% sugar, there is no current UK or EU definition of “high” as far as sugar content is concerned. I wonder how many of those who complained have fallen for the latest scam?
“Eat football, sleep football, drink Coca-Cola” was the banner adorning the playing field at Bexley Heath School in Nick Cohen’s brilliant 2004 Channel 4 programme on how the fake food industry targets our children. The Cola banner was accompanied by a large Kellogg’s Frosties banner behind the goal posts. In December 2008, the lobby group Sustain and the Children’s Food Campaign published an excellent exposé of ‘educational material’, such as this, produced by the food industry entitled “Through the Back Door.”
Against this backdrop of criticism, the cunning marketer has the idea – if we can create a sob story that children are starving and present Kellogg’s as the white knight that comes to the rescue – maybe these campaigners will stop attacking us? Maybe we can position Kellogg’s as the marvellous saviour of hunger in poverty stricken Britain and then this inconvenient opposition will look really mean trying to stand in the way of a child and their right to a 35% sugar breakfast?
If that marketer could have imagined that they would not only silence most opposition, but that they would have Netmums making videos for them, Heart FM as a radio partner and the Mirror group backing them, they would have barely believed it themselves.
I knew that Kellogg’s had been trying to extend their breakfast clubs since 1997. I didn’t know that this particular campaign is in its third year.
I found that out on the ‘money-can’t-buy’ PR for Kellogg’s on the Netmums site : “Here at Netmums we know that times are tough, and lots of us are struggling financially, but for many families, it’s just the start of their problems. That’s why we’re so delighted to tell you that Kellogg’s is bringing back its Help Give A Child A Breakfast campaign. Now in it’s (sic) third year, this heart warming initiative works with schools to provide breakfast clubs for the most vulnerable children in society, making sure that these kids start the day with full tummies and happy hearts. This year, Kellogg’s hopes to donate 2 million breakfasts to the children and families who need them most, and they need your help.”
“Heart warming” – oh for goodness sake! Wake up and smell the money.
As Netmums’ founder, Siobhan Freegard, explained on the video (please don’t watch it – another sugar injection is given to a child every time you do so – I’ve already condemned one child to 35% sugar Coco-Pops for a day by watching it to write this note.) “Collectively there is something we can do to make a difference. Kellogg’s have pledged 2m breakfasts, through breakfast clubs, through their “giveachildabreakfast” campaign.”
The idea is that UK PLC does Kellogg’s marketing for them. We tweet, Facebook, blog – generally spread the word about how wonderful Kellogg’s are trying to get sugar in children’s tummies – and Kellogg’s then enjoy a terrific, attack-free, promotion until they hit their upper cap of expenditure. The small print is here: “Kellogg’s will target to pledge £400,000 under the GACAB initiative for 2013.” That wouldn’t even get Kellogg’s one two-minute advert during X Factor. As I said – genius marketing.
What about the children who are already getting a great breakfast at home? Those children lucky enough to have mums who know all about real food and healthy eating. Will those children think it’s more fun to attend a breakfast club (a party before school?) and thus start getting Kellogg’s sugary cereal for breakfast instead of the eggs/milk/yoghurt that smart parents would have been feeding them? This Kellogg’s sales strategy is harmful on so many levels.
Every site that covers the giveachildabreakfast [GACAB] campaign positions the issue as follows:
The Kellogg’s campaign home page says: “Sadly, 1 in 7 children in the UK* goes to school without breakfast every day. Together, we can give 2 million kids a better start.”
Netmums says: “It’s hard to believe, but every morning, 1 in 7 children in the UK goes to school without breakfast in their tummies*. For many families, skipping the most important meal of the day isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. One of the main reasons that lots of kids are starting the day on an empty tummy is sadly due to the increasing number of families in this country who live in food poverty.”
Crikey – no wonder The Mirror Group got involved.
The asterisk takes you to an academic-looking reference: Hoyland et al (2012) Nutr Bull, 37 (3), 232-40, UK Kellogg Report, “No food for Thought. The impact of hunger in UK classrooms 2012″. The original article was not easy to find and the whole thing is not on free view, but here’s the abstract.
65 schools were sampled – 38 primary and 27 secondary – from which 3,311 children aged 5-15 years were surveyed about their breakfast consumption. “The results indicated that 86% of children ate something before school (whether at home, on the way to school or at a school breakfast club). Of the remaining 14% of breakfast skippers, a third reported not eating anything until lunch time. The extent of breakfast skipping was higher in girls than boys, and higher in secondary than primary school pupils.”
This study was not about poverty, family income or whether or not families could provide breakfasts for their children. It was about breakfast skipping for whatever reason. Note the “girls skip more than boys” and “secondary school children skip more than primary.” This study reinforced a much larger study, conducted by The Exeter based Schools Health Education Unit, which surveyed 32,000 10-15 year olds in 2009. This non-conflicted study led to the headline “The girls living on just one meal a day: teens risk health to copy stick thin celebrities.”
Notice also that only a third of the 14% – barely 1 in 20 – doesn’t eat anything until lunchtime. That’s probably those 11-15 year old dieting girls again. Did 10 of the 14% grab a banana or a packet of nuts leaving the house and have this long before lunch time? This is as much (more?) about children valuing sleep more than breakfast and being quite happy to eat something once they’ve woken up. It tells us nothing about poverty-driven breakfast absence in the UK. But don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Would it be better for every boy and girl under 15 to start the day with eggs? Absolutely. Make that every human. However, that’s not what’s on offer here. When the concoction that Kellogg’s is trying to stuff into our children is more sugary than the doughnut they might pick up en route, don’t give me the line that Kellogg’s are trying to do a good thing here.
And if this is about poverty/cost, then a quick check on Tesco groceries tells us that Coco Pops are 36p per 100g; Rice Krispies are 39p per 100g; and Coco Pops Cocorocks (whatever the heck they are) are 68p per 100g. Meanwhile Quaker oats are 20p per 100g and Tesco every day value oats are 8p per 100g. If Kellogg’s really cared – they could spend their £400k marketing budget on the Tesco oats and feed far more children and with zero added sugar.
Before we move on from this study, reiterated ad infinitum as ‘evidence’ for the one in seven positioning, it should be noted that Nutr Bull stands for Nutrition Bulletin (I know – the second word should have stayed abbreviated!), which is a British Nutrition Foundation publication. As a reminder – here are the members of the British Nutrition Foundation and here are the sustaining members. You should be able to spot Kellogg’s in among every other fake food and drink company you can think of.
The last name on a journal paper is usually the supervisor. The last name on this paper is J. L Walton. Click on author information and you will find that Jenny Walton’s organisation is “The Kellogg company, Manchester UK” and the person to whom correspondence should be addressed is email@example.com.
Worse, the first person named on a study does the work. In this case, the first person named is Dr Hoyland, who turns out to be Dr Alexa Hoyland. The author information listed for Dr Hoyland says “Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.” Do a simple Google search and you find that Dr Hoyland is UK & ROI Senior Nutrition Manager at Kellogg‘s, which seems underhand at best and fraudulent at worse. I then wondered what the second listed reference to Leeds University was – the School of Food Science & Nutrition, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK. Check the logo that hits you on the first search page that you find here.
This story has been created, engineered and manipulated by Kellogg’s from start to finish.
Kellogg’s aren’t just concerned about children skipping breakfast (for whatever reason). When the product you sell is one eaten at breakfast you want to campaign relentlessly to make sure that no one skips breakfast. Apparently 2-30% of men (bit vague) and 24% of women skip breakfast. And how do we know this? Because Kellogg’s tell us. Breakfast skipping harms Kellogg’s profitability – it must be stopped.
Kellogg’s have got previous
One of the reasons that this incensed me so much – and probably the Children’s Food Campaign too – is that people working in the arena of obesity are all too familiar with the tactics of the likes of Kellogg’s and Coco-Cola.
The original eatbadly plate was called The Balance of Good Health. It was launched by the UK Department of Health in 1994. This original version was Kellogg’s branded (The eatbadly plate replaced this in 2007, but the cornflakes clearly shown will still trigger the thought “Kellogg’s” in the minds of most people.) Kellogg’s (and Coca-cola – see the red can on the plate) have managed to infiltrate ‘healthy’ eating messages from the outset.
A press release, dated 1 March 2007 entitled Kellogg’s: commitment to health and wellbeing, informed me that Kellogg’s had been the lead sponsor for the British Dietetic Association’s annual obesity intervention campaign since 2002 (and may still be).
Kellogg’s are one of many fake food companies who have associated themselves with The Department of Health, Change4Life programme, managed by the UK National Health Service. The £75 million programme was criticised for the involvement of junk food partners from the outset. Marketing Week noted that Richard Watts, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign at lobby group Sustain, was concerned that allowing companies to use the Change4Life logo gave companies “tacit support”.
Kellogg’s have been sponsors of the Amateur Swimming Association’s (ASA) awards scheme, with the “Kellogg’s Swimtastic Awards” as a key annual event. This partnership started in 1996 and 15 million children had taken home a Kellogg’s branded award by the mid noughties. The ASA annual report (2004) said, under the heading “Another Grrreat Year”, “It’s been another financially successful year for the Kellogg’s Frosties ASA Awards Scheme… The Annual Awards Gala Dinner, now known as Swimtastic, was held… Tony the Tiger was of course around to lend a helping paw of support to everyone.” Oh love him!
Kellogg’s bottom line
The company’s annual report is a good starting place to understand organisational priorities. The opening statement in the 2008 annual report for Kellogg’s says: “At Kellogg Company, our goal is to drive sustainable and dependable growth by leveraging the talents of our people and the power of our brands, and by fulfilling the needs of our consumers, customers and communities.” Sales in 2008 were nearly $13 billion, making Kellogg’s the world’s leading producer of cereal. More than 1,500 products were marketed in over 180 countries. Kellogg’s “met or exceeded” all growth targets, even during the recession, and the opening statement from the chair and president ends with …”we remain committed to delivering sustainable and dependable growth into the future.”
The word “growth” appears 24 times in the brief opening statement. The word “obesity” appears once in the 98 page report: “Our innovation teams develop nutritious foods that take into account major public health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.” In the 2009 annual report, the word growth appears 85 times; the word obesity not once. Why would Kellogg’s sponsor so many different dietary organisations when obesity does not appear to be a subject worthy of mention in the annual reports?
The opening statement admits: “We are aggressively embracing digital media, which affords an efficient, cost-effective way to target specific audiences, providing an excellent platform for developing our brands. We have already tapped the Internet to gain significant brand development traction for Special K, Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks, Kashi, Rice Krispies, Morningstar Farms and Pop-Tarts. In addition, we are successfully building relationships with moms around the world through Kelloggs.com and KelloggNutrition.com. Our strength in brand building allows us to successfully drive new business opportunities that expand our portfolio and reach more consumers.”
When I shared these growth missions in my obesity book I actually asked the question – I wonder how ‘moms’ feel about being targeted and manipulated in this way?
We now know. They’ll be fronting the campaign!