New FTC Guidelines Take Aim at Children's Food Pitchmen

There’s an old saying that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. The government version is this: When all you have is the ability to regulate, the solution to every problem is more regulation:

Citing an epidemic of childhood obesity, regulators are taking aim at a range of tactics used to market foods high in sugar, fat or salt to children, including the use of cartoon characters like Toucan Sam, the brightly colored Froot Loops pitchman, who appears in television commercials and online games as well as on cereal boxes.

The story goes on to say the regulations are “voluntary” but the food industry sees this as more than a hint:

“There’s clearly a demand hidden behind the velvet glove of the voluntary language,” said Dan Jaffe, an executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, a trade group that represents marketers like Kraft Foods and Campbell Soup.

In case you’re wondering where all this came from, the “intergovernmental panel” looking at food marketed to children was established by a provision in the 2009 budget omnibus. The recommendations the panel has produced are not entirely original (see footnote 10). They are based on a series of similar recommendations from groups including CSPI and WHO.  Whatever the source, the image of the FTC taking on the Keebler elves is, well…magically delicious:

By explicitly tying advertising to childhood obesity, the government is suggesting there is a darker side to cuddly figures like Cap’n Crunch, the Keebler elves, Ronald McDonald and the movie and television characters used to promote food.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the same administration that wants to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant is prepared to treat sugar and salt in much the same manner. If they can replace our light bulbs with something better for us, why not our breakfast cereal?

I do find it a bit hypocritical that they same folks who spent half a billion dollars selling “hope and change” to the youth vote now want to forbid colorful characters used in advertising to children. I’ll grant it’s different if you’ll grant that it’s not all that different: