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MENDOZA IN THE NEWS

Marketing may fatten more than profits

Scholars in ethics workshop discuss ad strategies, rise in child obesity

by Pat Leonard, South Bend Tribune

May 25, 2005

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Children dream of such things. Bowling for Lifesavers.

On Web sites such as candystand.com, such dreams come true. Children can access and play any number of games visibly geared toward them.

But Elizabeth Moore, an associate marketing professor at the University of Notre Dame, said Tuesday that children have become the unfair targets of new and more prevalent advertising methods such as the Lifesavers "advergame."

"Once children understand what advertising is, they have the ability to distinguish cognizantly ... but technological advancements are blurring the boundaries" between advertisements and harmless games, Moore said on the second day of a three-day, on-campus marketing ethics workshop in the Center for Continuing Education.

Four Notre Dame professors in all have made or will make presentations at the workshop, which is sponsored by the American Marketing Association and Notre Dame's Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide. The professors include Moore, institute co-director Patrick Murphy, professor of business ethics Robert Audi and associate professor of marketing John Weber.

Advergames, Moore said, are an example of clever marketing strategies that advertise food and/or related products to naive and often unaware children.

The overriding theme of a Tuesday morning panel, titled "Emerging Research Issues in Marketing Ethics," focused on childhood obesity and the marketing techniques that create problematic consumer habits, particularly when geared at younger children -- typically ages 3 through 7.

In the panel's opening lecture, Kathleen Seiders, an associate marketing professor at Boston College, offered suggestions for how to clarify the marketing methods of companies. For example, she said nutritional and serving-size disclosure should be clear and consistent.

"I think many people don't think of food as a harmful product," Seiders said.

But Seiders, who once spent 10 years in the food retailing industry, said people should know better.

"It's important to remember health and nutrition are not the main drivers of food choice," she said. "There is a very strong indulgence trend going on right now. When companies go the right way (to marketing healthier foods), they're actually losing opportunities on the food market."

Moore reported that according to the National Center for Health Statistics, only 4.2 percent of children ages 6 to 11 qualified as obese between 1963 and 1970. But from 1999 to 2002, the percentage had jumped to 15.8 percent, an 11.6 percent increase in obesity among young children.

A few professors in the audience questioned whether consumers, and parents in particular, were in part to blame for disturbing trends like obesity.

But Moore and Seider both said parents are often susceptible to overlooking the subtle marketing schemes just as their children are.

"Children are a captive customer," Seider said. "And whether we like it or not, children are often able to influence and overrule their parents' decisions."

Moore , specifically, is currently conducting a study on advergames and their effects in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation. She hopes to complete her collection and analysis of data by the fall.