Coca Cola Breaks its Pledge Not to Market to Kids

Photo Credits: flickr/Kevini Lawver

Photo Credits: flickr/Kevin Lawver

Dismayingly, but not surprisingly, The Coca Cola Company frequently violates their own pledge to no longer market to children. The policy on their website sounds nice at face value, but is vague enough to allow them to continue directing advertising efforts to young children:

”We have a global Responsible Marketing Policy that covers all our beverages, and we do not market any products directly to children under 12. This means we will not buy advertising directly targeted at audiences that are more than 35% children under 12. Our policy applies to television, radio, and print, and, where data is available, to the Internet and mobile phones.”

Apparently,“directly” is the key word in this policy. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has published a report titled “Marketing Coke to Kids – Broken Pledges, Unhealthy Children,” that claims that Coca Cola, despite its pledge, continues to market their sugar-laden, nutritionally empty products to children.

Here are some of the most glaring discrepancies between policy and practice, as pointed about by CSPI:

Coke’s policies bar marketing in media that directly targets children under 12 and in which 35 percent or more of the audience is composed of children under 12, but:

  • Coke advertises on family TV shows and at theme parks
  • Coke’s products feature characters that appeal to kids, like The Avengers
  • Coke advertising appears on YouTube Kids
    • According to CommonSense Media,YouTube Kids is a kid-targeted portal to YouTube that features curated, ad-supported TV shows, music, educational videos, and user-created content…The app continues to draw lots of public scrutiny and controversy for including some clearly inappropriate videos and ads, as well as fast food and junk food ads that push unhealthy food (some of which look a lot more like entertainment than advertising, making it hard for kids to know they’re being marketed to).”
  • Fanta and Coke branded videos, computer games, and apps often feature animated characters that appeal to young children

Coke says it will not use characters or create branded toys with primary appeal to children under 12, and yet:

  • Coke exempts characters they already use, like polar bears, penguins, and SANTA CLAUS
  • Coke licenses its logos and characters for use on children’s toys like puzzles, Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, and child-sized t-shirts

Coke says it will respect the role of parents and caregivers by not marketing directly to their children, but their logos and brand names can be found:    

  • In Little League fields, at the annual Children’s Christmas Parade in Atlanta, at the Coca-Cola Kids Challenge running races in Australia, which are for kids under 10
  • On products and signage in and around schools throughout the world

We support eliminating and reducing the exposure to marketing of foods of low nutritional value to children, which obviously includes Coca-Cola. Within the home, the easiest way to avoid unhealthy marketing is to reduce screen time. But parents can caregivers have little control over what ads their children see once they step outside. That’s why making changes in key community environments and settings is so important.

Want to learn how you and your organization can create an environment that reduces childhood exposure to unhealthy food and beverage marketing? Check out our Model Policies and consider passing our Reducing Marketing of Unhealthy Foods & Beverages Policy.