FTC Issues Subpoenas

BOSTON The Federal Trade Commission today said it has issued subpoenas to 44 food and beverage companies for a report it is preparing on marketing to kids.

Burger King, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Dole, Kellogg, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Kraft and Mars, among others, were called to disclose how much they spend to reach young people through paid media and to provide specific information about their marketing practices.

The companies must comply by Nov. 1 for a report the FTC is preparing for Congress.

The FTC is seeking detailed information on spending and strategies targeting kids and teenagers across virtually all measured media, including TV, radio and the Internet. Specifics on targeting by age, gender, ethnicity and other factors are required.

Childhood obesity has become a hot-button issue in recent years, and the subpoenas were widely anticipated.

The industry knew the subpoenas were imminent, and some big players had already taken steps they said would foster more responsible marketing to kids.

Last month, 11 marketers, including Campbell, General Mills and Pepsi, voluntarily adopted new limits on advertising to kids under 12. Several of the marketers said they would use licensed characters to promote only healthy products.

In June, Kellogg made headlines, and brought into question the fate of ad icons like Tony the Tiger, by disclosing that by the end of 2008 it would no longer advertise cereals that don’t meet self-imposed health standards to children under 12.

Kellogg also said it would limit licensing agreements with outside partners. Other strategies include changing product Web sites to foster more parental involvement and a timer limiting kids to 15 minutes before encouraging them to log off.

In 2006, two children’s advocacy groups—the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood—and two parents filed a lawsuit against Kellogg and Viacom. Of particular concern to the groups was advertising on cable networks like Nickelodeon and related magazines and licensed products. As a result of the changes, the suit was dropped.