Junk food uses social networking to target kids


Oh, those wily ad execs. When a national media regulator closes a door, they force open a digital window.

Several junk peddlers, including McDonald's, Starburst, Haribo and Skittles have turned to the Internet to reach their pint-sized consumers after the UK's media regulator, Ofcom, made it difficult to advertise on television. Starting this year, ads for high fat, salt or sugar brands have been banned from children's TV. Right now, the ban is for programming aimed at 4-9 year-olds, although it will be extended to teenagers in January 2008. The new regulations were implemented after UK citizens realized their national enthusiasm for deep-frying may have some drawbacks.

Skittles reportedly paid a six-figure sum to social networking site Bebo for it's very own page. The site has received over 50,000 visits, and sports 3,500 friends. This strikes me as odd: I have never been friends, or even particularly friendly, with candy. Kind of makes me want to set up a Bebo of Myspace page for something really abstract, like 'time' or maybe 'stupidity', and see how many friends they get.

No surprises here- kids are aggressively hunted by advertisers, eager to exploit new technology to boost the bottom line. But when those advertisers are hocking products with serious health implications, it's time to get worried. Too bad the social networking sites are also in thrall to the almighty profit motive, making it all but certain Kidvertising on line will only get worse. I'm not one to advocate for blanket regulation of the Internet, but some targeted policy interventions are needed to protect its most vulnerable users.