FoodFacts remembers years ago, when many of us were children, back before the internet, food companies found creative ways of advertising to smaller people. They knew, even back then, that kids were pretty valuable. Put a toy in a box of cereal, print a great picture of it on the front of the box and we could drive our mothers crazy for however long she chose to keep us with her in the grocery store. Cracker Jacks always had a prize inside. Some of the cereal toys were actually fun, even if they didn’t last very long. Food companies have always understood the value of marketing to children.

As the world has become more technologically advanced, so have marketing tactics which target children. In the absence of real regulation, since 2006, 17 major corporations — including General Mills, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Burger King — have taken a voluntary pledge to reduce marketing of their least nutritious brands to children, an effort they updated last year to include marketing on mobile devices. Nutrition experts say that the voluntary pledges come complete with loopholes, and that “better for you” is really in the eye of the beholder. Companies are still marketing foods that really aren’t considered healthy. And they’re doing it in highly creative ways.

Take a minute and go visit:

We could actually include a full page of these URLs, but this is a good sampling for our community. Click through and you’ll see that kids can play free games, get involved in safe online communities AND be exposed to brand marketing specifically designed to appeal to children. Most of these sites actually tell the kids and parents right there on the site with a call-out in small type that reads something to the effect of “Kids: this is advertising”. We guess this means that if they’re honest about it, they get to do what they want. It seems to be a great way to ensure brand loyalty amongst the smallest in society. If they like the food company’s games and they can play them for free, they’ll probably drive their parents crazy until they buy that particular food product. Of course, that product might contain all sorts of preservatives, food dyes, trans fats and other ingredients you might not expect to see in food meant for consumption by children.

Just like the “toy-in-the-box” concept that started many years ago, this “free-online-games-marketing” is not a healthy thing for our kids. It succeeded in helping a lot of us get used to things in our diets that never needed to be there in the first place like excess sugars, food coloring that serves no purpose other than visual appeal, fake ingredients that we still can’t pronounce, etc. And now, in the online age, those same tactics are working to ensure the same “food future” for millions of children.

FoodFacts knows there are many in our community who may already be aware of these marketing tactics and which companies are utilizing them. For those who may not already have that understanding, we wanted to make sure that you get the information you need to make the decisions that will help you build and maintain your healthy lifestyle.