This week, Walt Disney — the owner of ABC, ABC Family, the Disney Channel, and other TV outlets — became the first major media company to limit junk-food advertising during its children's programming, saying it would no longer carry ads for foods that didn't meet requirements restricting sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. Disney Chairman Robert Iger said the move was part of an effort to combat childhood obesity, a growing problem that affects 25 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 11. First Lady Michelle Obama, appearing with Iger, threw the White House's support behind the deal, saying it was "truly a game changer for the health of our children." However, while it's assumed Disney will lose advertising dollars, Iger insisted that the initiative was also "smart business." Will curbing junk-food ads help Disney's bottom line?
Yes. The move will polish Disney's brand: Disney "sees a business and branding opportunity in eschewing junk-food ads — by trying to establish itself as an arbiter of healthier foods," says James Poniewozik at TIME. With the concurrent launch of the Mickey Check, "a Disney-branded seal of approval to be featured on products that meet its standards," Disney is trying to create a "new and intimate relationship with consumers." Parents may not end up turning to Disney for nutritional advice, but may be otherwise influenced by the company's healthier image.
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And its competitors will likely follow suit: Expect a "ripple effect through the children's entertainment industry," says Brooks Barnes at The New York Times. In 2006, for example, Disney pulled Mickey Mouse from the boxes of Pop-Tarts and Toy Story characters from McDonald's Happy Meals. "Within months, Nickelodeon and Discovery Kids announced similar restrictions," and they "will face pressure to follow Disney's lead" when it comes to junk-food advertising. There will be little benefit in picking up rejected Disney advertisers.
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In truth, Disney isn't sacrificing much advertising: The changes won't take effect until 2015, and by then junk-food advertisers may have abandoned children's programming for good, say Paul Bond and Marisa Guthrie at The Hollywood Reporter. The food industry has long been "eschewing kids' programming in favor of advertising on channels parents watch with their children, like Discovery and the Food Network." The days of Cap'n Crunch fighting pirates between Saturday morning cartoons is long gone — marketers have already made the shift and Disney is just catching up.
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