June 25th, 2008

Survey Reveals Moms Wary of Ads Aimed at Kids

By Beth Snyder Bulik
Advertising Age

When it comes to advertising in and around schools, marketers should consider skipping children altogether and going straight to the top: mom.

In a recent survey of almost 1,200 PTO and PTA mothers by School Family Media, more than 73% agreed that promotional materials aimed at parents are more acceptable than those aimed at kids. Only 3% said those aimed at kids are more acceptable. (Some 18% said both are acceptable; 6% said neither is acceptable.)

Box Tops, Labels for Education
Not surprisingly, programs such as General Mills’ Box Tops for Education and Campbell’s Labels for Education that target parents to make a purchase were much more positively rated than programs that target kids directly with advertising messages.

Box Tops and Labels for Education, for instance, were rated acceptable sponsorships by 95% of moms in the study. Other “winners” in their eyes included Scholastic Book Fairs—91% rated it acceptable—and free educational materials and magazines handed out at school that are written specifically for parents (81% said that was acceptable).

However, kid-targeted advertising drew scant approval. A Bus Radio program, for instance, that plays kid-friendly music and news along with advertising during the daily trek to school, got a paltry 16% acceptable rating. Poster ads placed inside buses fared even worse, with only 9% of moms agreeing they were OK. Ads on book covers also fared poorly, with just one-third rating them as acceptable.

Reward programs get seal of approval
The only direct-to-kids programs that did score well in the survey were reward programs such as Pizza Hut’s Book It!, which offers free pizza coupons for reading books, and Topps of the Class, which offers free trading cards for good grades. Eighty-five percent of the moms said reward programs—those two were mentioned specifically in the question—were acceptable.

Certain kinds of sampling passed muster with these moms, too. A full 91% said samples distributed in parent gift bags on special nights were OK. And while only 22% thought food and beverage samples given directly to students are acceptable, when the wording was changed to say “healthy food and beverages that meet School Nutrition Association guidelines,” the approval rating jumped to 72%.

“Parents are more open to programs that target them instead of their kids,” said John Driscoll, VP-sales and business development at School Family Media, a marketing and media company that also publishes the magazine PTO Today. “At the Kid Power conference this year, [an executive from] Cartoon Network said they’re literally changing their DNA from thinking about kids to thinking instead about parents and family.”

The study also marks the first formal feedback from parents on the relatively new Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

Elaine Kolish, director the Better Business Bureau initiative, said the group is “thrilled” with the level of parental awareness of the program. Almost 30% of survey respondents said they had heard of the program, in which large corporations like Pepsi and Kraft pledge to self-regulate their marketing to children. She said she was also pleased that the majority of parents were satisfied with the program—more than 64% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “The CFBAI is a step in the right direction and shows food and beverage companies are genuinely committed to curbing advertising to kids.”

“I think they believe it is a real, genuine effort to do the right thing,” Ms. Kolish said.

Moms support wider scope
The findings about the initiative also showed that other industries that sell to children should be paying attention, too. More than one-third (38%) of the moms surveyed strongly agreed—and another 36% agreed—that the initiative should be extended beyond the food and beverage industry to all companies that advertise to children.

“That must be some feeling that they don’t like the commercialization of schools,” Ms. Kolish said. “So they seem to be anti-commercialization, but recognize that it’s O.K. for [things like] healthy products. ... I think all parents want help in educating their kids on healthy eating and being more active.”

The survey was conducted online, and the margin of error was plus or minus 3%, School Family Media said. 

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