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 TV Food Advertising Unchanged

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Registration date : 2007-09-19

PostSubject: TV Food Advertising Unchanged   Thu Sep 20, 2007 11:54 pm

Research at the University of Arkansas shows that a year after major
food companies announced new advertising policies to combat childhood
obesity, there have been no significant changes in television food
advertisements that children view. Not only were unhealthy foods the
most frequently advertised, but child-targeted commercials continued to
employ the very production techniques and persuasive appeals that make
it difficult for children to critically evaluate advertising.



In research to be presented Friday, May 25, at the International
Communication Association annual conference, Ron Warren, associate
professor of communication, reports the results of a study that
analyzed television food advertising likely to be viewed by children.
The research team from the University of Arkansas departments of
communication and journalism compared television commercials recorded
just prior to an industry self-regulation effort announced in February
2005 with commercials recorded a year after that industry initiative.



"Our primary conclusion is that little changed across the collection of
food and beverage advertising analyzed in the two years of our sample.
It appears that many advertisers selling unhealthy foods, at the very
least, left their advertising practices unchanged despite a potential
backlash from critics or the government," the researchers wrote.



Warren noted that the 2005 industry initiative was confined to
commercials viewed during programming aimed at young children, such as
cartoons and afternoon children's shows. Children typically watch
television during the evening primetime slots, Warren pointed out.



"The companies are very carefully defining where they will make
changes, and there is no formal commitment to changing commercials
offered during primetime," Warren said.



Warren's team examined commercials taped between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.,
the hours school-aged children are most available for television
viewing.



"Whether we just looked at ads targeting children or if we only looked
at ads on child-friendly shows, we weren't seeing a lot of change,"
Warren said.



In analyzing commercials, the researchers used established findings
from cognitive development research to understand how children view
commercials. Typically, young children focus on information presented
in visuals and sound effects. Until about eight or nine years of age,
children have difficulty processing information from dialogue or
voice-overs.



Thus, the research team looked at how product advertisements used
attention-getting devices such as animation, live-action visual
effects, sound effects and musical jingles. These techniques have been
shown to appeal to children and to suit their processing skills. In
addition, appeals that emphasize fun and happiness or that offer a
premium ��" buy the product and get a toy have proved effective with
children. The combination of attention-getting devices and emotional
appeals tends to distract young children from processing health and
nutritional information about products.



"If the advertising landscape confronting children is dominated by
commercials with special effects and emotional appeals for largely
unhealthy products, only older children and adolescents might be
prepared to critically evaluate those messages," the researchers
concluded.



The researchers cited a couple of "encouraging signs of change" in food
advertising. Most significant was the increased use of nutritional
claims, even in children's programs. Researchers also found dairy
products among the most frequently advertised products during
child-rated programs, something that had not been seen in previous
research.



"If this trend develops beyond this small beginning, especially with
products higher in recommended nutrients for children, then future
content analyses will be able to document a significant response to the
criticisms of food advertising," the researchers concluded.



In addition to Warren and 16 graduate students, the research team
included Jan L. Wicks and Ignatius Fosu of the Walter J. Lemke
department of journalism and Robert H. Wicks and Donghung Chung of the
department of communication. Both departments are in the J. William
Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas.
The research was conducted in the UA Center for Communication and Media
Research and received no outside funding.
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